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Editorial: Countermeasures required to deal with population decline

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research estimates that Japan's population will decline by 30 percent to 88.08 million by 2065. It will be the steepest population decrease the country has ever seen.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to improve Japan's labor force, which has been increasingly relying on non-regular workers, and solve the problem of long waiting lists for children to enter day care facilities with the aim of maintaining the population above the 100-million-level in 50 years' time.

The latest birthrate is slightly above an estimate released five years ago, but it is far from enough in the long run to maintain the population above the government's target.

Particularly serious is an estimate that the working population -- those aged between 15 and 64 -- will fall by 40 percent over the next five decades. If the number of those supporting retirees decreases, it will threaten the pension and medical care programs, adversely affecting the economy.

The estimated population of about 88 million is the same level as that in the 1950s. Around that time, about 10 people who were active in the workforce were needed to support one senior citizen. There was still a large workforce in farming and self-employed businesses, and many generations in a family lived together at the same home and looked after children and elderly members. There was no need for livelihood assistance to support senior citizens.

In 2065, however, an estimated 1.3 people active in the workforce will need to support one elderly person. The number of senior citizens living alone will sharply increase and there will be larger demand than today for pension and nursing care services. The increasing costs of these social security programs will have to be shouldered by far fewer people in working generations.

To avoid such a situation, first and foremost the government needs to put more efforts into countermeasures against the declining birthrate.

Furthermore, the number of people who will remain single throughout their lives is projected to rapidly increase. There are numerous people who have given up on getting married or having children because they cannot afford to do so. Top priority should be placed on measures to reduce the financial burden of childrearing and education.

The government is working to reform the way people work but measures to improve wages and working conditions for non-regular workers are far from sufficient. The entire social security system needs to be transformed into one which places more emphasis on supporting those in working generations.

Moreover, measures should also be taken to prepare for a depopulating society. There are a growing number of people who remain healthy both physically and mentally even after growing old. "Elderly people" are defined as those aged 65 and older, but people over 65 who still can work or are affluent should be encouraged to support those who need social security services. The social security system should be reformed to respond to the situation of each senior citizen instead of uniformly separating a group of people by age.

As countermeasures against the workforce shortage, workplace environments should be improved to allow women to continue working without worries after giving birth to children and men need to engage more in childrearing. It is also necessary to seriously consider accepting more foreign workers.

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