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Japan’s population shrinks for 3rd year as ranks of aged grow

April 16, 2014 - 12:05am

TOKYO — Japan’s population slid for a third year with the proportion of people over the age of 65 rising to a record, underscoring the challenge the world’s most-indebted economy faces in financing its aging society.

The population declined by 0.17 percent to 127.3 million as of Oct. 1, as the country maintains one of the world’s lowest birth rate. People age 65 or older made up one fourth of the total, the highest-ever percentage, as postwar baby boomers head into retirement, the Internal Affairs Ministry said on its website.

Japan’s debt has swelled to more than twice the size of the country’s economic output, due partly to expanding health and social security costs associated with its aging population. As well as increasing the sales tax to 8 percent from 5 percent this month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to encourage more women into the workforce to boost the economy and government coffers.

A shrinking labor force is complicating those efforts to raise tax revenue. The working-age population, defined as those between 15 and 64 years old, fell to less than 80 million for the first time in 32 years, the ministry said.

“The problem of the low birthrate and aging population is getting more serious and the scale of the fall is remarkable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. “Given the circumstances, it is a matter of urgency to build a society where women can shine,” he said, adding that more child-care provision and a better working environment for women were among the necessary measures.

Children up to 14 years old made up just 12.9 percent of the population, according to the ministry, only slightly more than the 12.3 percent of the population age 75 or older.

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