Japan faces dire dip in population by mid-century, a problem facing many countries

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Japan is looking at a very shrinking population by 2060 – down from 128 million to 87 million past the mid-century mark – and experts warn the situation poses a formidable socioeconomic challenge that other developed nations will have to tackle as well.

Seniors will account for 40 percent of the total population, placing an enormous burden on the remaining work force to keep the social security infrastructure intact. The estimate released Monday by the Health and Welfare Ministry of Japan paints an alarming future.

The national work force will not make up the remaining 60 percent, as a sizable portion of that demographic will simply be underage. The Welfare Ministry estimates that the proportion of those who constitute a viable workforce – defined as those between the ages of 15 and 65 – will be below fifty percent of the total population.

The total fertility rate in Japan in 2060 is expected to dip even lower than the current 1.39% - well below the 2.1% replacement rate. And the average Japanese will continue to live longer – the average life expectancy for a Japanese woman is expected to be almost 91 years (up from 86.5), while that for a man will be 84 (up from 79.5).

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference that major tax overhauls are needed to address the changing demographics in the country. He also noted that the fertility rate should not be expected to change.

Prime Minister Noda is trying to enact new tax legislation, and it is not a popular plan. A bill he promised to submit by the end of March would raise the 5 percent sales tax in two stages to 8 percent in 2014 and 10 percent by 2015, though it remains to be seen whether these proposals will be effectively implemented, as opposition to them is expected to be formidable.

"Pension programs, employment and labor policy and social security system in this country is not designed to reflect such rapidly progressing population decline or aging," noted Noriko Tsuya, a demography expert at Keio University. "The government needs to urgently revise the system and implement new measures based on the estimate."

News about the problems facing those nations which experience negative populations curves tend to be highly paradoxical in view of other parts of the world struggling to make ends meet for precisely the opposite reason – and especially in light of the fact that total world population is still expected to climb to a staggering 10 billion around 2060. But the problems of total population decline in a given country are still formidable, as the shrinking pool of working-age people cannot be expected to take major taxation of their incomes to help support an aging population which lived it up while they were young cheerfully.

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