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Schermafbeelding 2018 06 04 om 09.27.34Forget that image of sweatshops making all kinds of cheap stuff with plentiful labor. Now China’s workforce is shrinking and its population graying rapidly. Maybe many in the West haven’t noticed, but Beijing has. Bloomberg News reports that China’s cabinet plans to end the limits on family size that, among other things, have now left the country short of workers. About a quarter of the population will be 60 or older by 2030, according to government projections last year. That’s up from about 13% in the 2010 census. China’s working-age population is still huge at about a billion, but it’s getting smaller. (Coincidentally, 2030 is about the time China is supposed to eclipse America as the world’s largest economy.) Recent steps to encourage childbirth underscore a handful of serious challenges China faces as economic growth both slows and evolves. The path to supremacy, if that is the goal, is tougher than many imagine. Easing limits on family size attests to that. China’s economy has evolved too far to be carried by cheap manufacturing. The nation’s share of the global textile and clothing industry, for example, is waning, and wages are increasing, as reported by the South China Morning Post. (Westerners can check the labels next time they’re shopping for clothes: many will say they were made in Vietnam, Pakistan or Indonesia.) China’s graying and diminishing workforce is part of what’s driving this. It’s also driving Beijing’s investment in fields like robotics and new-energy vehicles—a new model for the nation’s shrinking workforce. While China tries to alleviate its demographic crunch, the aging society means a pension shortfall. Contributions from Chinese workers no longer cover retiree benefits, forcing the state to plug that gap. That adds urgency to Beijing’s efforts to rein in burgeoning corporate debt, given the government will need to fund its . . . . . read more

Photographer: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

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