Joseph Coleman, the former Tokyo bureau chief for Associated Press, is Professor of Practice in Journalism at the Indiana University Media School. He has reported from some two dozen countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas in 25 years as a journalist. Coleman is the author of Unfinished Work: The Struggle to Build an Aging American Workforce (Oxford University Press, 2015). He has degrees from Vassar College and Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. Coleman, 52, lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with his wife Kyoko and their two children.
Japan's population is aging at the fastest rate of any major industrialized country, and fertility rates are at historical lows. The shrinkage of the workforce threatens to drive down the country's savings and production rates, while the costs of caring for ever-larger numbers of seniors could undermine public health insurance and pension systems, propelling the country into a fiscal crisis with wide ramifications for the global economy. A key to averting this crisis will be Japan's success in encouraging the elderly to keep working beyond retirement age. How do the potential payoffs of elderly employment compare with other steps under consideration in Japan, such as boosting immigration, or drawing more women and young part-timers into the full-time workforce? What changes are needed --in tax regime, in corporate structures, at the village level where many elderly reside -- to accelerate the retention of seniors in employment? What major obstacles does Japan face in this effort, and what advantages can it count on? A good portion of my project will be based on interviews in Japan with aging experts, and collection of data from government agencies, such as the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Japan also hosts many research centers on population and aging: the International Longevity Centre in Tokyo, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, and others. I also plan to conduct research in the Nagoya area and Kamikatsu, a rural town southwestern Japan that has implemented an innovative plan to keep the elderly employed into their 80s.