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2009年2月25日 (水)

年金財政見通し 国民の不安は別の所にある

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 25, 2009)

Shaky pension system needs to be sorted out

年金財政見通し 国民の不安は別の所にある(225日付・読売社説)

The results of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's study on the long-term outlook for the public pension system, which examined its future financing, ill fit the "security for 100 years" slogan touted by the ruling parties on pension reform.


The study, presented Monday by the ministry to the Social Security Council, an advisory body to the welfare minister, forecasts that benefits under the corporate employees pension system, known as kosei nenkin, will bottom out at 50.1 percent of the average after-tax salary for corporate employees in fiscal 2038, although they will start falling annually from 62.3 percent in fiscal 2009.


It was the first verification study conducted since the reform of the pension system in 2004. The study is to be carried out every five years.



Rose-tinted forecasts

The study's results suggest that a pledge made by the government and the ruling parties in the 2004 pension reform--that pension benefits of 50 percent of the average after-tax salary of corporate employees would be secured--will be narrowly met.


But we cannot accept the study results on faith because the calculation is obviously based on a stack of extremely optimistic forecasts.


For example, the study estimates an annual yield from managing accumulated pension premiums of 4.1 percent. It assumes that as of 2030, the number of elderly workers and members of the working generation will have increased from a previous prediction by 2.4 million and 3.6 million, respectively.


As a matter of course, it is difficult to examine the appropriateness of estimates that look ahead several decades. It would be more appropriate to call those assumptions targets rather than estimates.


The study also forecasts that the premium payment rate for the national pension program will rise to 80 percent from the current 60 percent level. It is obvious that many preconditions supporting the estimates are dubious.


It is inevitable that some people will suspect the long-term outlook actually calculates backward to arrive at estimates that form the basis for the conclusion that a 50 percent ratio of employee pension benefits to the average after-tax salary for corporate employees is achievable. But the study unintentionally shows that very high hurdles lie in the way of fulfilling the 50 percent pledge.



Structure seen as unreliable

Taking the opportunity offered by the release of the study results, it is time to stop juggling numbers and bring discussions on the pension system back to the main thread.


People are anxious about the pension system not because the ratio of benefits to be received may fall below 50 percent of the average after-tax salary of company workers, but because its very structure is unreliable.


First and foremost, a source of funding to support the public pension system must be secured.


The ministry's calculation assumed that the government's contributions to the basic pension plan had been raised from the current one-third to half the total. But a relevant bill has yet to be enacted. Although the government will tap surplus funds in special accounts dubbed "buried treasure" in the next two years, nothing has been decided on a funding source beyond that.


Remedial measures need to be formulated that incorporate a mechanism under which one can be assured of receiving a certain level of pension benefits even if one's income is low after retirement. What is important is to fix problems and weaknesses in the existing pension system one by one.


Efforts to secure a funding source for the social security system and reform the pension scheme must be accelerated.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 25, 2009)

20092250146  読売新聞)


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