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Editorial: Pension system calls for flexibility to meet individual needs in aging society

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has approved an outline for measures to address Japan's aging society aimed at changing the current system in which those aged 65 and over are defined as the elderly to a more flexible one that can better serve individuals' ambitions and health status.

The outline stipulates that it will "review uniform categorization by age groups and aspire to achieve an ageless society wherein people of all generations can be active in areas of their choice."

The aging society countermeasures outline is updated every five years, based on which the government hammers out specific policy measures. The highlight of the latest outline is pension system reform and employment assistance for the elderly.

Currently, people basically start receiving pension benefits at age 65 in Japan, but they can move up the starting age to 60 or push it back to 66-70. If you opt to begin receiving pension benefits at an earlier age, the monthly benefits will decrease, while late receipt will boost those sums.

In reality, however, there are people who work beyond age 70 and live on their wages. This is why a new policy to enable seniors to start receiving pension benefits at 70 or older was included in the most recent outline. The more elderly workers there are, the more sustainable the pension system would become.

The outline also includes the establishment of support services for working life extension at the government's "Hello Work" employment support centers to facilitate re-employment among seniors wishing to work. Loans from Japan Finance Corp. will also be provided to back entrepreneurship among the elderly.

Japan faces chronic labor shortages mainly in the service, medical and social welfare industries. Promotion of continued employment and re-employment among those aged 66 or older is essential for industrial society, as many elderly in Japan are eager to stay in or return to the workforce.

Public awareness also needs to change, in tandem with the shift in the public support system. Elderly people in good health and spirits are encouraged to raise their motivation to be an integral part of society.

Though not without individual differences, there are increasing numbers of seniors who remain energetic and engaged despite their advancing years. Japan's healthy life expectancy is rising, meaning that there are more and more people with little need to undergo medical or nursing care even beyond age 65.

According to a medical survey, people in the country are becoming significantly younger than before in terms of their physical strength. It is then plainly clear that segmenting the population simply by age and rendering the elder portion as mere beneficiaries of social security is out of touch with reality.

Some even call the graying population a "platinum" generation, instead of "silver," acknowledging their abundance of experience and knowledge. We need to seek out an aging society that shines colorfully by helping those generations determine their own post-retirement lives.

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