Anything to avoid immigration
Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images It’s widely known that Japan is facing a significant demographic transition as its population continues to age while its birth rate remains well below population replacement levels. In fact, a United Nations population model predicts (pdf) that in 2050, Japan’s population will have declined to 104.9 million (currently 127.4 million) and that ...
Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images
It’s widely known that Japan is facing a significant demographic transition as its population continues to age while its birth rate remains well below population replacement levels. In fact, a United Nations population model predicts (pdf) that in 2050, Japan’s population will have declined to 104.9 million (currently 127.4 million) and that people aged between 15 and 64 will constitute only around half the population. The same model also projects that if Japan allows more immigrants into the country, it will be able to both address its impending labor shortage and stabilize its population. Singapore, which faces similar demographic pressures, has announced plans to do just that. But not Japan—it’s opting for another “solution”: Putting the elderly to work.
In a white paper released on Friday, the Japanese government urges Japan’s elderly people to remain in the workforce, arguing that old people need not be a “burden” on society. The idea does have merit: The life expectancy in Japan 78 and 85 for men and women respectively, and many post-60s enjoy their jobs and would prefer to keep working. Plus, within fifty years, it’s likely that there will be just one younger worker to support each pensioner, a ratio that would be become more favorable if people worked longer. But it still seems like a shallow, incomplete solution to a deeper problem that could effectively be addressed by allowing more immigration—a way of avoiding Japan’s deeply entrenched xenophobia toward foreigners.
For instance, in 2005, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi hinted at this inherent prejudice, stating,
If [the foreign labor] exceeds a certain level, it is bound to cause a clash. It is necessary to consider measures to prevent it and then admit foreign workers as necessary.”
Even further back, during the economic boom of the 1990s, Japan addressed its labor shortages by pushing for automation instead of immigration. This may have provided a short-term band aid at the time, but clearly it’s failed to address Japan’s larger demographic and labor problems. Barring a major breakthrough in robotics, it’s likely that the elderly work initiatives will suffer the same shortfalls. With less than 2 percent of its population composed of immigrants, Japan can surely afford to open its borders just a little. After all, if it doesn’t, the people most likely to suffer the consequences are the Japanese themselves.
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