Estimated Fukushima population dips below 1.8 million, hitting new postwar low

The population of Fukushima Prefecture is estimated to have fallen below 1.8 million for the first time since the end of World War II, according to a tally by Fukushima-Minpo Co. The estimate as of April 1 represents a loss of about 100,000 people in the five years and five months since November 2016, when the population dropped below 1.9 million. There is no sign of the shrinking trend bottoming out amid the sagging birth rate, aging population and continuing net outflow of residents. Depopulation is one of the most important issues for the prefecture. The prefectural government projects the population will decrease to 1 million in 2060 unless measures are taken. It is set to step up action to counter the trend with initiatives focused on raising the birth rate and encouraging inflows of people into the prefecture. Fukushima-Minpo, publisher of the namesake local daily, gathered demographic data on all 59 municipalities in Fukushima in March by using the method employed by the prefectural government, tallying natural dynamics (the difference between births and deaths) and social dynamics (the difference between in-migrants and out-migrants) during the month. The company made its own estimate by using the data and the estimated population figure as of March 1 released by the prefectural government, and the result stood at 1,795,348. It is possible that some of the municipal data will be revised before cities, towns and villages report official figures to the prefecture, but the population is certain to have sunk below 1.8 million. The prefectural government is scheduled to announce later this month the estimated population as of April 1. The population of Fukushima Prefecture dipped below 2 million in July 2011, four months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant, and below 1.9 million in November 2016. Then, albeit on an unofficial count, it is now estimated to have dropped below 1.8 million in April 2022. The numbers represent a decrease of 100,000 almost every five and a half years, showing little change in the pace of depopulation. As main factors behind the population shrinkage, prefectural officials cite fewer children and the continued trend of young people attending higher education institutions or finding jobs outside Fukushima. If the trend continues without any effective action taken, the population will sag to 1.43 million in 2040 and to 1 million in 2060, according to the prefecture's projections. Depopulation is feared to result in a smaller economic size and a labor force decline. Moreover, it could worsen diverse problems, including a breakdown in the balance of the social benefits and costs through, for example, greater medical and nursing care expenses, a deterioration in the finances of municipal governments and a subsidence of local communities. The prefectural government is seeking to slow down the pace of depopulation in terms of both natural and social dynamics so the population will stay above 1.28 million in 2060. The anti-depopulation measures it has come up with for the current fiscal year ending next March include an extensive family support program involving marriage, pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing, as well as a scheme that encourages young people to find lasting employment within Fukushima. * Prefectural population estimates: The prefectural government announces these estimates every month based on the results of the latest national census, which is taken every five years. Specifically, it adjusts the census data concerned after receiving reports from the prefecture's municipalities on natural dynamics (births minus deaths) and social dynamics (in-migrants minus out-migrants). (Translated by Kyodo News)