German Population Continues to Decline

The Associated Press
Friday, January 5, 2007; 9:07 PM

BERLIN -- Germany's population fell for a fourth consecutive year in 2006 and recorded the biggest drop since the country's reunification in 1990, the government said Friday, days after launching financial incentives designed to stall falling birth rates.

The number of births, meanwhile, was the lowest since World War II.

At the end of 2006, the number of people living in Germany was an estimated 82.3 million, 130,000 below the total at the end of 2005, the Federal Statistics Office said.

Germany's population grew in 2001 and 2002, but has fallen each year since. From 2003-2005 the population dropped by 5,000, 31,000 and 63,000, respectively.

German officials have been reluctant to ease immigration rules to bolster the work force, despite complaints from industry that there are not enough skilled workers in some areas. Demographers and economists say the problem will only grow worse, and that an aging population will put serious strains on pension funding and on the economy for lack of workers.

A recent government study forecast that the population could fall as low as 69 million by 2050.

During 2006, the agency said there were about 675,000 births, down from 686,000 recorded in 2005. The latest figure represents the fewest since World War II and far below the 922,000 births recorded in 1946, when the country lay in ruins after its defeat.

The population decline was also due to a drop in net immigration, from 79,000 in 2005 to between 20,000 and 30,000 last year, officials said.

"Immigration was nowhere near enough to make up for the births deficit," the statistics office said.

Starting Jan. 1, the parents of newborn children are entitled to share up to 14 months of leave from their jobs and receive about two-thirds of their net salaries in a bid to encourage couples to have more children.

The move, designed particularly to help working moms have more children, follows similar moves in other European countries concerned about their aging populations.

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