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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 5)

Editorials from Korean dailies 06:57 January 05, 2021

Falling population
Radical measures needed to increase childbirth

South Korea's population reached 51,829,023 as of Dec. 31, down 20,838 from the previous year, according to the Ministry of Interior and Safety. This represents the first statistical decline in the population since the country introduced the resident registration system in 1962.

Of particular note, the number of births plunged 10.6 percent to 275,815 from the year before, dropping below 300,000 for the first time. Contrasting this, the number of deaths reached 307,764, up 3.1 percent from 2019. This marked the first time for the country to see the "death cross" phenomenon of deaths surpassing births.

What is also serious is the rapid graying of the population. A quarter of the population are in their 60s or older, along with a steady decline in the number of young people. The number of young and elderly people living alone continued to increase significantly, pushing the entire number of single households to reach 9 million which accounted for 39.2 percent of the total.

As seen in industrialized Western countries and Japan, falling childbirths and an aging society may lead to a shortage in the workforce and a consumption decline, causing dwindling production and a depletion of the state budget.

The Moon administration should learn a lesson from the fact that previous governments have largely failed to find a solution though they threw 180 trillion won to raise the falling birthrate over the past 15 years. The nation's birthrate tumbled to 0.92 in 2019, the lowest among OECD member countries.

Well aware of the problem, the Moon administration announced a package of measures last month to cope with the low birthrate and population aging. The birth-stimulating measures will be implemented from March 2022, affecting births next year.

The steps include providing parents with a 300,000 won ($270) allowance per child each month. Also a maximum of 3 million won will be given to each parent for three months during which parents of a child take parental leave. But these steps seem insufficient to avoid a looming demographic crisis.

It is high time for the Moon administration to tackle negative factors related to marriage and births. And it needs to drastically increase financial support for childcare, education and housing. We must have a future-oriented mindset to embrace diverse family types including multicultural families.

A continued population decline will hamper economic vitality and growth potential, thus weakening the national capacity overall. The Moon administration should focus on improving the people's livelihoods instead of taking expedient steps to boost childbirth and slow population aging. It also needs to take drastic steps to create more jobs and expand the supply of houses led by the private sector for young people.
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