Population decline raises major obstacle

A healthy, sustainable solution to the social security problem presupposes an immediate confrontation of the country’s serious demographic problem, one that unfortunately appears to have been systematically ignored in proposed solutions, according to the Foundation for Confronting the Demographic Problem. Since 1981, for example, the birthrate has been falling at a speed unprecedented in modern Greece. During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, about 145,000-155,000 babies were born in Greece every year, but since the beginning of the 1980s the number dropped 32 percent over an 18-year period, down to 100,000 at the end of the 1990s. This means the birthrate fell from 19.8 per 1,000 population in 1950 to 14.47 in 1981 and 9.53 in 1999. The number of children being born to women of childbearing age dropped from 2.1 in 1980 to 1.3 in 1999. Also, since 1970 the number of large families (four or more children) has been reduced by half. The foundation claims that over the past 20 years, no government has given any real consideration to the gradual reduction in the size of the working population, a development that means any «accounting» solution is bound to fail. «Having contributions from three sources (employers, employees, and the State) is an accounting solution that does not work,» said Professor Constantine Koustopoulos of the National Technical University recently. «First of all, more and more people will be retiring, so more funds will be required for pensions. Secondly, pensioners will be living longer and therefore costing more in both pensions and medical care. Therefore the unions’ proposal of leveling pensions, which the government has indirectly accepted, is no solution, although this does not mean that no financial measures are necessary. But there can be no solution to the social security crisis without first confronting the demographic problem,» he said. He claims that no one, not even the ministers in charge, appears to be really aware of the issue, because no specific figures have been set out on the negotiating table. In recent decades, the population has been boosted by immigration, including the repatriation of ethnic Greeks from other countries, particularly the former Soviet bloc. Between 1981-1991, there were about 250,000 immigrants, while another 290,000 were added during the following decade. Today there are almost 730,000 foreigners living in Greece, accounting for almost the entire population increase of 979,705 between 1991 and 2001, since the number of births during that time was just 25,000.

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