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Economy

Panel calls for senior safety net, more women in workforce

TOKYO -- As Asia grasps for ways to address its aging problem, experts on Monday stressed the need for income guarantees for seniors and better use of women in the workforce.

These views were voiced during a panel discussion on the region's graying trend at the 22nd International Conference on The Future of Asia in Tokyo, organized by Nikkei. Participants from China, South Korea, Thailand and the World Bank attended the discussion.

Societal aging is advancing in East Asia, cautioned Philip B. O'Keefe, lead economist for East Asia and the Pacific at the World Bank. To offset the resultant decline in the labor force, O'Keefe suggested the first step is to tap female human resources. "If we put more women to work, fertility will be fairly steady," he said, rejecting the notion that birthrates necessarily decline when women get jobs.

He added that the adoption of flexible work systems and utilization of immigrants would also be effective.

Worawet Suwanrada, dean of the Faculty of Economics at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said: "It is said that Thailand is a young country, but now the over-60 population share is increasing." In 2010 that segment accounted for 13.2% of the total population, but last year the share was up to about 16%.

The Thai government needs to seriously consider countermeasures, such as income guarantees and the promotion of senior employment, Worawet suggested. Another step could be to raise the mandatory retirement age for government workers.

Professor Ahn Sang-hoon of Seoul National University said: "We need to create a sustainable welfare state, financially sustainable. For that we need to raise tax rates. And how can we make people understand there's a need for that? Of course, the politicians need to play a very important role there."

Cai Fang, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said other Asian nations can take valuable lessons from Japan's economic slowdown and aging demographics.

(Nikkei)

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