National / Politics

Abe convenes panel to tackle low birthrate, aging population

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched a key advisory panel of intellectuals and Cabinet members Thursday, tasking them with providing ideas to overcome one of most serious long-term problems confronting Japan: its rapidly aging population and low birthrate.

Abe has set a key policy goal to maintain Japan’s population — now around 127 million — at a level of more than 100 million in 50 years by boosting the low birthrate.

Abe also has pledged to create “a society where all of the 100 million citizens can play an active role,” apparently with the aim of making full use of Japan’s latent work force, and women in particular.

The panel, which includes 15 non-Cabinet members, was launched to generate ideas for achieving the two key goals.

The members include Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) Chairman Sadayuki Sakakibara, former internal affairs minister Hiroya Masuda and Momoko Kikuchi, former pop idol and now visiting professor at Toita Women’s College in Tokyo.

Based on advice from the panel, the government plans to hammer out “urgent measures” to tackle the population issues by the end of this month, with a more comprehensive, long-term program to follow around spring next year.

“If the birthrate remains at the current level, Japan’s population will be about 80 million in 50 years, and 40 million in 100 years,” Abe said at the panel’s first meeting in the prime minister’s office.

“This is about one-third of the current population. It will directly lead to a decline of our national power,” Abe said.

Japan’s rapidly aging and shrinking population has caused serious concerns about its future as the size of the economy shrinks while social security costs for the elderly continue to swell.

Abe is trying to turn this trend around by pledging more public support for households raising children and increasing welfare facilities to eliminate instances of family members quitting jobs to care for elderly relatives.

He has already been criticized, however, for an apparent lack of specific programs to boost the low birthrate as well as a lack of financial resources to fund increasingly expensive welfare facilities.