Japan’s population shrinks at record rate, losing 276,000 people

Linda J. Dodson

TOKYO — Japan’s population suffered its largest one-year drop last year, government estimates released Tuesday show, with the country’s working-age labor force falling to a new low.

The population stood at about 126,167,000 people on October 2019, down 0.22% from a year earlier. The change marks the biggest percentage contraction since comparable records started being kept in 1950.

The population count, which includes foreigners, has dropped for nine straight years. The decrease of 276,000 people last year amounts to a loss of a mid-sized city.

The rapidly graying population risks overtaxing the country’s social insurance system. Those 65 and older number 35,885,000, accounting for a record 28.4% of the population.

At the same time, the share of the population between the traditional prime working years of 15 and 64 has slipped to an all-time low of 59.5%, or 75,072,000 people as of October.

A shrinking labor force contributes to negative economic growth. Currents demographic trends will also undermine the tax base needed to sustain government services for the elderly, such as pensions and medical care.

To avoid such an outcome, the government has urged the business community to accommodate workers as old as 70. Policymakers have also opened doors wider for foreign workers. 

For foreign nationals, the number arrivals to Japan in the year to October exceeded the number of departures by 209,000, marking the seventh straight year of growth.

Deaths in the overall population outpaced births for the 13th consecutive year. Only 896,000 babies were born, a decrease of 48,000 births. Meanwhile, 1,381,000 people died, up 12,000 individuals.

Every April, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications publishes the annual population estimate as of Oct. 1, based on the census and monthly population movements. This estimate reflects conditions prior to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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