National

Population panel draws line in sand

Experts suggest Japan take stand at 100 million in child-rearing boost

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

To save Japan from a looming demographic crisis linked to its shrinking population, a goal of maintaining the nation’s population at around 100 million for the next 50 years should be set by allocating more of the social security budget to help child-rearing households instead of the elderly, an advisory panel to the prime minster said in an interim report Tuesday.

If the panel’s final report is adopted, it will be the first time the government has set a numerical population target.

But the panel, which is tasked with projecting Japan’s future and proposing policy options to the prime minister, did not recommend that more foreigners be brought in to offset the expected drop in the population.

The panel’s conclusion is likely to affect the long-term economic growth strategies Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is preparing to announce in June. The revamped set of deregulatory vows and subsidies for promoting economic growth, will represent a new version of the “third arrow” of his deflation-busting program dubbed “Abenomics.”

Whether a drastic easing of immigration policy will be included in the growth strategies has been drawing public attention.

Panel head Akio Mimura, head of Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told reporters that no national consensus has been formed on immigration, which is the reason why it decided not to recommend that immigrants be allowed to come to Japan to live and work.

The members, however, agreed to promote the idea of allowing larger numbers of foreign professionals to enter, Mimura said.

“I don’t think a national consensus has been formed yet to approve (more) immigrants. Instead we should first make as much effort as we can by trying to raise the birthrate,” he said.

For now, the panel does not intend to discuss promoting the use of large numbers of immigrants to make up for the predicted dent in the population, Mimura said.

It has been estimated that Japan’s population will shrink by 31.9 percent to 86.7 million in 2060 from 127.3 million in 2013. The ratio of elderly, defined as those 65 or older, is expected to surge to 39.9 percent of the population from 25.1 percent during that time.

Such a drastic demographic change will reduce the size of Japan’s working population and gross national product, while at the same time placing an increasingly heavy financial burden on the younger generations, whose taxes support seniors dependent on pension benefits and medical and nursing insurance.

“If we don’t do anything, an extremely difficult future will be waiting for us,” Mimura told a news conference after Tuesday’s panel session. “It would be difficult for Japan to maintain economic growth, and people’s quality of life would deteriorate, too,” he said.

The chairman also stressed that if the government and the people start taking action immediately, such as by allocating more of the social security budget to child-rearing households and changing men’s attitudes toward working women, Japan will be able to narrowly maintain a population of 100 million over the next five decades.

This road, however, appears to be a rocky one. According to a simulation by the Cabinet Office, for Japan to maintain the 100 million level, the total fertility rate — a key indicator of birth trends in a given year — must recover to 2.07 by 2030, from the current 1.41.

Japan’s TFR has fallen for the past three decades, although it rebounded slightly to 1.41 in 2012. To boost it to 2.07 will not be an easy task, Mimura admitted.

The TFR is defined as the number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime if she were to live through her reproductive years and bear children in line with age-specific birthrates in a given year