The Week (US)

China: Growing old before it grows rich?

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Our nation needs more young people, said Shen Jianguang in Caixin Global (China). China’s population grew only 5.4 percent over the past decade to 1.4 billion, according to the most recent census, which was conducted last fall. That’s the slowest rate of expansion since records began in 1953. Meanwhile, the number of new births fell for the fourth year in a row, to 12 million, and the average woman now has 1.3 children over her lifetime, well below the 2.1 needed to maintain a stable population. As a result, China is graying rapidly. People ages 65 and over today account for 13.5 percent of the population, up from 8.9 percent in 2010. There are plenty of positive signs in the census, too: We are more educated and more urban than ever before. But our aging populace poses “major challenges”; young workers power economic growth and their tax contributi­ons fund services for the elderly. If current trends continue, the national pension fund “will exhaust its accumulate­d balance around 2035.”

Western nations such as the U.S., U.K., and Germany bridged their own demographi­c gaps by welcoming foreign workers, said Kuldip Singh in the Financial Express (India). Because of “its closed immigratio­n system and authoritar­ian regime,” that option isn’t on the table for China. Beijing is instead looking for ways to boost the birth rate, said Cissy Zhou and He Huifeng in the South China Morning Post (China). The central government recently introduced a 30-day waiting period before couples can file for divorce and in 2016 “replaced its notorious one-child policy”—which resulted in some

400 million fewer births over the past four decades—“with a two-child limit.” The problem is that most couples don’t want more than one child, because of career pressures and “the high costs of living in cities.” Demographe­r and entreprene­ur Liang Jianzhang believes Beijing should scrap all limits on family size and offer parents subsidies worth tens of thousands of dollars a year, perhaps even providing free homes to those who have three or more kids. “The investment is worth it,” Liang said, because those newborn citizens will pay far more into government coffers over their lifetimes.

Beijing insists that talk of a crisis is premature, said Frank Chen in AsiaTimes.com (China). Officials note that our current labor force of 880 million workers exceeds that of the “key Western powers combined,” and that the production power of the Chinese people is “still waiting to be fully tapped.” Chinese companies are already getting creative, said Xu Jingjing in Sanlian Life Week. The rural areas where factories once recruited workers are tapped out, and so some firms are now offering bonuses to employees who recruit other qualified workers. Others are replacing human workers with “industrial robots, computer-controlled machine tools, and other automation equipment.” China is now home to 36 percent of the world’s installed industrial robots. Still, more tech requires more skilled technician­s. Unless something changes, the country could one day face a “double shortage of manpower and skills.”

 ??  ?? China’s over-65 population is growing fast.
China’s over-65 population is growing fast.

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