CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 19 May 2018

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Fewer births and aging workforce scary demographics for Beijing

BEIJING (AsiaNews): China’s demographic picture is starting to look a lot like that of Japan: births are declining, the workforce is getting smaller and the population is aging. This is what the latest official figures show.
 
According to the National Statistics Bureau, while the country’s economy grew 6.9 per cent in 2017 from 6.7 per cent in 2016, its demographic statistics are less positive. 
 
The number of new births fell from 17.86 million in 2016 to 17.23 million in 2017 despite the introduction of the two-child policy in 2015. At the same time, the workforce—defined as people between the ages of 16 and 59—fell by over five million in 2017.
 
Meanwhile, the percentage of people over the age of 65 continues to grow. 
 
The authorities declared at the end of 2017 that this represented 11.4 per cent of the total population, trending upward compared to 10.8 per cent in 2016. 
 
This means that China has 158.31 million people over the age of 65, more than the entire Russian population.
 
Since comeing to power in 2012, the president, Xi Jinping, has gradually eased population controls. 
 
The infamous one-child policy, introduced in 1979, was revised towards the end of 2013, when couples were granted the right to conceive a second child if one of the parents was an only child. Two years later, all couples were allowed to have two children.
 
The government’s tough population control measures have reduced the number of new births by about 200 million over the last 40 years, undermining the country’s growth potential. 
 
This is what emerges from research conducted by Zhou Tianyong, deputy director of the Institute for International Strategic Studies of the Beijing Central Party School. 
 
The effects of demographic changes are tangible. The government is under increasing pressure with provincial pension funds quickly depleting reserves as an aging population puts a strain on the social security regime. 
 
According to a report by the Academy of Social Sciences, about half of the funds are in deficit and the burden of supporting older people is up to the younger workforce.
 
The study reveals that the problem is particularly severe in the north-eastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning, where the percentage of retired people has increased, while the workforce has decreased as the workers move elsewhere. 
 
Rich coastal areas, like Guangdong, and cities like Beijing have more money to cover pensions because they tend to attract migrant workers.
 
“If no provision is taken to address it (the population decline) ... it will only increase the cumulative damage resulting from a reduction in the labour force on demand, income and GDP production,” Zhou says.

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