Japanese local leaders consider declining population serious

Japanese local leaders consider declining population serious

More than 90% of local government leaders consider their declining population serious, according to a nationwide survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun ahead of the unified local elections in April.

Over 60% of the leaders cited child-rearing support programs and measures to tackle the declining population as key issues in the upcoming election races, indicating that they regard the chronically low birthrate as a pressing matter. The largest portion of respondents wanted to see more support for education expenses to combat the low birthrate, as a result of the measures they seek from the central goverment.

The questionnaire was sent in February to the heads of 47 prefectures, including Tokyo, as well as the leaders of 1,741 cities, wards and other municipalities. Answers were received online from 1,606 local governments, or 89.8% of the total.

Of those who found the declining population to be serious, 65% described the situation as extremely serious and 26% somewhat serious. The decline was reported to be serious by 98% among municipalities with populations of less than 5,000. 95% of the leaders of municipalities with populations between 5,000 and 10,000 people gave the same answer.

Iwate Prefecture had the highest percentage of leaders who found the decline to be extremely serious at 94%, followed by Fukushima Prefecture and Akita Prefecture, both of which had 91%. Iwate Prefecture was severely hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake, and Fukushima Prefecture is home to the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. nuclear power plant that was stricken by the earthquake and tsunami.

The results showed that these prefectures are still largely affected by the 2011 disaster and the nuclear accident.

Asked about the initiatives that they are focusing on to combat the low birthrate and declining population, 83% selected child-rearing support measures, followed by regional economic promotion measures at 54%. Multiple answers were allowed.

Many respondents said that these measures have not been effective because of a lack of places for young people and women to work and an unstoppable exodus of the younger generations to seek employment or further education. Local leaders were asked what issues would dominate the unified elections. With multiple answers allowed, 66% chose to improve child-rearing support measures and the educational environment, while 62% chose measures to combat the declining population. 56% of respondents said they want the central government to address the low birth rate, while 35% chose to improve the employment environment for young people. Takumi Fujinami, senior researcher at the Japan Research Institute, Ltd, said that low wages and unstable employment environments are behind the exodus of young people from rural areas and the decline in people's motivation to have children. It is important to create high-quality jobs in regional areas.