Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Looming Demographic Collapse Now ‘Main Threat to Russian National Security,’ Health Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 14 – The situation with regard to Russia’s birthrate is much worse than officials say, Igor Gundarov says. It is not easily correctible as some think but rather reflects a “cascading demographic” decline that now represents the main threat to the national security” of the country.

            The specialist on health care administration at the Sechenov Moscow State Medical University says that officials want Russians to believe that the reduction in births this year reflects “economic factors” like Western sanction, falling incomes, and the deteriorating situation in health care (ng.ru/kartblansh/2017-11-14/3_7114_kartblansh.html).

                If that were the case, Gundarov continues, correcting the situation would be relatively easy; but in fact, the situation reflects a deeper set of problems that no one can reverse quickly. Low birth numbers now reflect low numbers of births 18 to 20 years ago when those who now should be giving birth were born.

            Because the size of that cohort was small, that alone, he points out, “leads to a reduction in the number of marriages and a consequent reduction of births, the first cascade.” That in turn sets the stage for another decline 18 to 20 years from now. And so on and so forth every two decades for as far into the future as experts can project. 

            And that in turn has a devastating impact on the number of working age Russians who are declining by a million a year at present.  “If in 2010,” Gundarov says, “there were 88.9 million” working age Russians, in 2016, there were only 82.3 million.” Losses of a million workers a year represents “the most fundamental form of demographic [and hence economic] collapse.”

            Another sign of this collapse is the striking reduction in the number of unemployed from 6.3 million in 2009 to 4.1 million in 2016. Given the large number of firms that have gone bankrupt and reductions in the number of employed at many others, one would have expected the number of unemployed to go up rather than down.

            But because the number in prime working-ago cohorts have declined, there are now two advertised vacancies for every unemployed. Many union leaders don’t want to believe this but it is a fact: “unemployment is falling while vacancies are growing,” an indication of a fundamental demographic problem.

            Leaders like Dmitry Medvedev present these figures with pride, Gundarov says; but if they were being honest, they would be forced to recognize that the working-age population is disappearing more rapidly than are workplaces. If that were not the case, he argues, “the number of unemployed would be 10 to 12 million,” not four.

            Doing anything about the demographic “cascade” Russia finds itself in “will be extraordinarily difficult.” As a result, Gundarov continues, one must face the fact that the country faces “demographic and socio-economic degradation.” By mid-century, there will be five times fewer Russians in their 20s than there were in 1988.

            “The Russian people will exist for long years beyond that,” he says, “but not with the status of a geopolitical subject.  It will live in a hospice,” and the international community will enter the indigenous population of Russia “into the Red Book of History” for those who are at risk of dying out.

            Ever more people are beginning to recognize this problem, but they don’t know what to do. Migration is no solution, not least because other CIS countries face the same problems Russia does and will work hard not to let their people leave and work elsewhere.  Maternal capital won’t work either.

            And “even our official pride – the increase in life expectancy to 71.9 years elicits a smile in comparison with our nearby neighbors: Azerbaijan and Armenia have life expectancies of 75, Belarus 74, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan 73, and Kazakhstan and Moldova 72. “After us,” Gondarov says, “is only Ukraine with a life expectancy figure of 71.9.”

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