Population Decline Unavoidable, Must be Managed; Regional Areas Hit First, but Problem Affects Nation

The Japan News
Yomiuri Shimbun building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

Even if the trend of low birthrates can be controlled to some extent, long-term population decline is inevitable. It is necessary to simultaneously come up with measures to sustain regional and economic vitality even with a smaller population size than now.

To make the most of existing resources while dealing with a declining population, municipal mergers and encouraging people to live closer to city centers should be actively discussed. Major regional cities must play a role in enhancing employment and education and also stemming population outflow to metropolitan areas.

Measures to attract young people will be meaningless if they simply become competitions among neighboring municipalities to try to “steal” them from each other.

The central government and governments in bigger urban areas need to be conscious that population decline is not just a local problem, and that they must support regional areas. The Noto Peninsula Earthquake highlighted the difficulties in rescue operations, recovery and reconstruction when disasters occur in depopulated areas. It is important to hone disaster mitigation capabilities in ordinary times.

As the working population shrinks, foreign human resources will be a valuable part of the labor force. The central government will establish a “training and employment” program that focuses on fostering skills of foreign workers. It is important to effectively implement the program to increase the number of people with the residence status of specified skilled worker.

The government should formulate a medium- to long-term systematic national strategy for foreign human resources with an eye on the future.

Advancing digitization is essential for improving productivity, but a lack of human resources is the biggest obstacle for companies and local governments. According to the Cabinet Secretariat, about 55% of all municipalities have three or fewer digital-related staff members, and it is not unusual for municipalities to have one or none.

It is necessary for multiple municipalities to work together in recruiting capable people. Small and medium-sized enterprises suffering from a shortage of human resources should also be supported.