Taiwan’s population last year decreased for the second consecutive year, Ministry of the Interior statistics released on Monday showed.
The only time in the past 20 years that new births and marriages fell to a level comparable with last year was in 2009 and 2010 during the global financial crisis, the Central News Agency said on Monday, adding that Taiwan recorded negative population growth in 2020 for the first time on record.
The National Development Council in August 2020 forecast that Taiwan would by 2025 become a super-aged society in which one in five citizens would be aged 65 or over, the report said.
Recent amendments have somewhat improved the situation for expectant mothers, but much more can be done. Mothers are now allowed seven days for pregnancy-related medical appointments — up from five days — and both parents can take leave together when the child is born. However, many young couples still cannot afford to have children. Parents can take leave for six months at 80 percent of their salary, but some couples cannot cope with a 20 percent reduction in pay.
Couples might also wonder how to take care of a child once they return to work. In a traditional Taiwanese family setting, new parents could rely on grandparents to help care for a newborn, but today many people work in cities far from their relatives. This requires sending their newborns to live in another part of the country until kindergarten age, or at best only see their children on weekends.
Daycare centers provide an option, but couples would be hard-pressed to afford private care on top of other childcare expenses, and public options are few and far between. New parents also need to pay for a one-month stay in a post-partum center, which is not covered under the national healthcare system, and can cost NT$150,000 (US$5,430) or more.
Taichung has taken the initiative with an amendment that took effect on Jan. 1, which doubles one-time maternity benefits to NT$20,000. It has also lowered monthly public daycare center fees by 30 percent to NT$7,000, and more than tripled the number of such centers over the past year.
The government earlier this week passed an emergency defense budget of nearly NT$240 billion. There is no doubt that defense is critical, but arguably the population crisis should be of equal concern. Many have said that the declining population is a national security crisis as well, given that fewer people means a shrinking talent pool, fewer consumers for the economy, the potential collapse of industries, a drop in the number of healthcare personnel, and fewer recruits for the military. Another issue is the rising cost of living, especially in cities. Rent and education costs in cities, where many people must live for career purposes, are rising rapidly. Convincing city residents to start families requires taking this additional burden into account.
The government should form an office or a committee specifically tasked with the challenges of getting people into affordable housing and providing affordable daycare. The sooner it takes on these challenges the better, as solving the issue only grows more difficult as the population ages.
As more issues related to the declining birthrate emerge, the government might need solutions that tackle more than one issue concurrently. For example, Taiwanese would traditionally have three generations living together in one household, and the grandparents would help care for grandchildren. Perhaps a program could be implemented that allows lonely, able-bodied elderly people to care for young children while their parents work. Meanwhile, as schools close due to fewer students, the government could retrain educators to be caregivers for the elderly or daycare providers for children.
Whatever the solutions, the government must act fast to tackle the declining birthrate.
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