November 21, 2014


Can immigration save a struggling, disappearing Japan? (Chris Matthews,  NOVEMBER 20, 2014, Fortune)

Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics...argues that Japan is in a depression, driven primarily by its quickly shrinking population. [...]

 Despite the fact that demographers estimate that Japan's population will shrink by 19 million people by 2050 and the ratio of the working to nonworking population will fall to 1:1 by 2055, it doesn't allow any permanent, legal immigration whatsoever. The result of this policy is that just 1.63% of the Japanese population is foreign-born, one of the lowest percentages in the world. (In the U.S., 14.3% of the population is made up of immigrants.).

Japanese policy makers have made moves to relax immigration restrictions, at least slightly, in recent years, by allowing a few thousands healthcare workers from select countries, like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, to enter the country and work towards long-term residency status. But the restrictions placed on these workers are strict: Their previous healthcare training is not recognized in Japan and the workers must learn Japanese within three or four years or they are sent back home. Not once has this program brought in the maximum allowed number of workers.

Following the financial crisis, Japan has only become less inclined to welcome foreign workers, despite the obvious need. Just as in the U.S., some Japanese people believe that allowing in immigrant workers is bad for those already in Japan. As Nobuyuki Yumi of Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare told the Asian News Network in 2012:

I consider the fields of nursing and health care to be important ones that generate jobs in Japan. Now the Japanese, especially the younger generation, are struggling to find jobs.... Former nurses who have quit can be encouraged to return to work instead.

And this attitude is a reflection of broader public opinion in Japan. According to the Japan Times:

Opinion polls show the Japanese public to be increasingly worried about the effects of the declining population. However, when asked what should be done to secure the labor supply, the top two answers in an April Yomiuri poll were to increase the rate of working women and encourage more elderly to work. Only 37 percent said more foreign workers should be accepted, and only 10 percent of those said manual workers should be brought in. The bottom line is that the no-immigration principle continues to be broadly supported by the Japanese public.

Unemployment is always an issue in capitalist countries. Even during boom times, we all wish there were more jobs. But macroeconomists are in near-unanimous agreement that a growing population is an essential ingredient for a growing economy, especially in developed countries where social insurance programs need for there to be enough young workers to take care of the old.

Posted by at November 21, 2014 1:13 PM

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