人口減少本格化 次世代支援にもっと知恵を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jun. 8, 2012)
More efforts, money needed to stop population decline
人口減少本格化 次世代支援にもっと知恵を(6月7日付・読売社説)

Japan has finally entered a period in which the population is decreasing substantially each year.

How can the nation deal with this unprecedented situation and maintain social vitality? We need to realize Japan has entered a critical stage.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has released the nation's vital demographic statistics for 2011. The number of babies born last year hit a postwar low of about 1.05 million, while the number of deaths was about 1.25 million.

It was the first time since the survey started that a natural decrease in population exceeded 200,000, and the decrease is expected to grow year by year. This means that a population equivalent to core local cities such as Kofu and Matsue disappears every year.

The total fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman will have in her lifetime, was 1.39, the same as the previous year. The rate was on an upward trend after bottoming out in 2005, but it seems to have leveled off.


People hesitate to start families

The average age at which first-time mothers gave birth was 30.1 in 2011, exceeding the age of 30 for the first time--demonstrating the current tendency for women to have babies later.

The number of marriages last year was 662,000, another postwar low. This illustrates the growing trend for people to delay marriage, or not marry at all.

Of course, it is each individual's choice whether to marry or have children. However, the current situation gives people few options but to give up or delay marriage as well as delay having children.

Young people now hesitate to start families of their own due to various concerns, including difficulties in finding work, anxiety about the nation's social security system--particularly regarding the future of the pension system--and the underdeveloped environment for raising children when both parents work.

It is urgent to change the current social security system, which emphasizes elderly people, by implementing measures that will cover all generations and making sure financial resources are distributed more evenly.


Take steps now

The Democratic Party of Japan-led government has announced a new program to reduce the number of children on waiting lists to enter day care centers--dubbed the new system to support children and households raising children--as part of its integrated reform of the social security and tax systems.
The government has also revealed its plan to develop a comprehensive strategy to improve the employment situation of young people.

Although there are differences in the details, the ruling and opposition parties have taken the same approach of combining the wisdom of various people to draw up measures that will help young people--who will lead Japan in the future--and allocate more money to such measures. Looking at the vital demographic statistics, it is clear lawmakers must speed up their efforts to achieve integrated reform of the social security and tax systems.

If the government fails to take appropriate measures while the population is declining at a growing rate, the economy will suffer from a shrinking labor force and society will lose its vitality.

To avoid such a situation, the government must take multiple steps to maintain a dynamic society.

Above all, the government must create better social and corporate environments to help women find jobs more easily and work more comfortably, to maintain a sufficient labor force.

The government should also enable people to work in more diverse ways, which would help motivated elderly people work longer. Furthermore, it is important for politicians to discuss whether to beef up the nation's efforts to accept foreign workers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2012)
(2012年6月7日01時13分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2012-06-09 07:42 | 英字新聞

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