Coping with problems arising from a low birthrate and a rapid graying of the population is an issue that the government and private sectors must tackle with a greater sense of urgency.
Postwar baby boomers born from 1947 to 1949 are now at least 65 years old, and people in this age category now account for more than a quarter of Japan’s population. It is important to reform employment systems and social security programs so that Japan can better cope with the changing demographic situation and the shrinking labor supply.
As of Oct. 1, 2013, Japan’s population stood at 127,298,000 (including foreign residents), marking the third straight yearly decline. The population of Japanese alone shrank 253,000 from the previous year, a record margin of decrease.
Population declined in 39 of Japan’s 47 prefectures. While rural parts of the country are suffering from a falling population, Tokyo has seen its population rise. This reflects the continuing movement of younger people to the nation’s capital, which, with its concentration of business headquarters, offers wide choices of job opportunities.
What is worrisome is that while people aged 65 or older reached 25.1 percent of the total population, the size of the working population, or people 15 to 64 years old, dropped by 1,165,000 in 2013 from the previous year to 79,010,000 — marking the first time in 32 years that the number of people in this age bracket has fallen below 80 million.
A decrease in that segment of the population could lead to stagnation of the nation’s economic activities, thus casting a cloud over Japan’s economic future and social fabric. A decrease in the number of working people in an aging society will destroy the balance between people underpinning the nation’s social security system and people who are receiving benefits from the system.
Policy measures to stop the fall in the number of working people — and possibly to increase their number — are strongly needed. In concrete terms, both the government and private sectors need to create a flexible and diversified social system in which more women and elderly people can take part in economically productive activities.
Although the Abe administration is attaching importance to increased female participation in the labor force as the core of its economic growth strategy, the government must first identify inadequacies in current policies that discourage many women from taking up jobs and must provide necessary support for them to overcome the hurdles.
The administration should improve day-care services for children and nursing care services for elderly people so that women can find it easier to take up jobs.
It should take measures to help shorten working hours significantly so that both male and female workers can enjoy a better work-life balance and manage both work and child rearing with ease.
It is also important for the government and businesses to institutionalize a permanent employment system for workers who work less than eight hours at companies a day and for workers who work from home for companies, while providing fair treatment to them.
Finally the government and businesses should realize that there are many senior citizens who are healthy and have a strong desire for social participation. These people can contribute much to passing on job skills to younger generations in manufacturing and agriculture.
The government and companies should create systems in which these people can fully take part in business activities or in other socially meaningful activities in communities with fair compensation.
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