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Recruiting Ethics: Changing With Populations?

(August 26, 2005) This year, two years ahead of forecast, Japan will suffer a net loss in population. The number of people on  our planet is leveling off. In "1st world countries",  population aging and decline is simple math.

It's a startling fact.

We're used to poor countries losing people through plague or military circumstance. We can almost remember the devastating population changes suffered by Russia during WWII. We can accept the possibility that there's a large enough shortage of doctors and nurses to change the HIV death rates (upwards) in Africa.

But Japan? They're another rich country. How could they be losing population?

JAPAN'S population is on track to show its first annual decline, raising fears over the outlook for the world's second-biggest economy and the ability of its welfare system to cope.  Japanese fertility rates have long been on the slide, but newly released figures from the Ministry of Health and Welfare confirmed that during the first six months of this year, deaths outstripped births and the overall population of Japan fell by 31,034. If the same pattern continues for the remaining months of 2005, a demographic turning point — where the population is contracting on an annual basis — will have been reached two years ahead of official Government forecasts. (TimesOnline)  (From Today's Interbiznet Bugler)

(We're reporting the details of population slowing and current global workforce shortages each day in the Bugler. Along with industry comings and goings and workload shifts (outsourcing), we're trying to make the Bugler a comprehensive report on our industry as a global actor in a global context.)

Aging and population decline are the expected norm for the populations of all of the top 50 industrialized countries, except the United States. US population growth is fueled, exclusively by immigrant additions. The "natural" fertility rate of current citizens is just at the break even point. Any forecast of significant population growth in the US involves a rethink of the post-911 border policies.

Population estimates and forecasts are complex subjects. We like the way that Stewart Brand frames the question:

Take population growth. For 50 years, the demographers in charge of human population projections for the United Nations released hard numbers that substantiated environmentalists' greatest fears about indefinite exponential population increase. For a while, those projections proved fairly accurate. However, in the 1990s, the U.N. started taking a closer look at fertility patterns, and in 2002, it adopted a new theory that shocked many demographers: human population is leveling off rapidly, even precipitously, in developed countries, with the rest of the world soon to follow. Most environmentalists still haven't got the word. Worldwide, birthrates are in free fall. Around one-third of countries now have birthrates below replacement level (2.1 children per woman) and sinking. Nowhere does the downward trend show signs of leveling off. Nations already in a birth dearth crisis include Japan, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Russia—whose population is now in absolute decline and is expected to be 30 percent lower by 2050. On every part of every continent and in every culture (even Mormon), birthrates are headed down. They reach replacement level and keep on dropping. It turns out that population decrease accelerates downward just as fiercely as population increase accelerated upward, for the same reason. Any variation from the 2.1 rate compounds over time. (MIT Technology Review)

Labor market forecasts are even more complex, depending on cultural norms of retirement age, fitness for work, skills development, labor market demand and so on. Labor shortages are never a concern in a contracting Economy.

What is certain is that we are seeing spot labor shortages in India (as the result of overdoing the offshoring thing) in New Zealand (a great example of a country grappling with the mix of economic expansion and population growth changes) in Africa and the US (relating to health care delivery).

Monday: still more to come.

Don't forget to check out the blogs on bert.

- John Sumser

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