Thu, Jun 13, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Preparing for population decline

In a matter of weeks, the presidential primaries of the nation’s two major political parties will be over. Beyond all the easy answers of get-rich-quick populist appeals, hopefully the nation’s serious structural problems will be addressed in a rational manner.

Demographics is a part of this. The nation’s population is to start to shrink as early as 2022 by some accounts. The government is approaching this problem from various angles, seeking ways to increase the birthrate and undertake targeted immigration, as well as improving social, institutional and urban environments for elderly people.

Financial incentives to take the burden off new parents would hardly dent the problem. People are not delaying starting a family because of the immediate costs of having babies: They are intimidated by the exorbitant financial burden of raising a child through to adulthood. They are also uncertain about the future, in terms of financial, job and national security.

Salary stagnation over the past 20 years has only exacerbated the issue, as couples are unsure whether they can afford to have children, or simply have no time to raise them, with both parents obliged to work to make ends meet.

Schools, colleges and universities have had to cut courses or close altogether.

The answer is long-term planning; the projected size of the student recruitment pool has been known for a long time, and an adjustment in the number of places offered should have been made long ago.

According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2018-2019, National Taiwan University ranked No. 170 in the world, with National Chengchi University placing between 801 and 1,000. In comparison, China’s Tsinghua University ranked No. 22 and the National University of Singapore was just behind it at No. 23. Graduates are voting with their feet.

There is no reason why 23 million should be regarded as an ideal population size for the nation: If it falls, it falls. The important thing is to adjust government policy and social institutions to better cater to the new reality.

What does a shrinking working population mean for the economy and national competitiveness? This is only relevant in the context of how artificial intelligence and automation could affect the job market. The same principle applies to whether lower numbers of potential military recruits could pose a national security threat.

Immigration policy presents another potential solution, with its own advantages and unique challenges. Immigration has been resisted due to the perception that it deprives the local population of jobs. However, immigrants often work in jobs that locals do not want, such as caring for the elderly, which is low-paid, low-status, physically demanding work that would only become more necessary as the population ages.

Why not introduce professional training and accreditation in the sector, making it possible to increase the salaries and status of the job?

On the other end of the scale is immigration for professional and technical positions that employers cannot fill from among the local population. Protectionist restrictions on the numbers and nature of human resource outsourcing could hamper the nation’s economic competitiveness.

Finally, there is the need to upgrade the social and urban environment to meet the needs of the aging demographic. The government needs to invest more in state-funded long-term care for elderly people, and ensure that senior citizens can remain healthy and active later into their lives, so they do not require long-term care early. This includes improving welfare, reducing pollution and increasing accessibility and ease of thoroughfare in towns and cities, including improving the amount, width and usability of sidewalks.

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