Sweden struggles to avert demographic crisis

Parts of Sweden are edging ever closer to a demographic crisis, according to Statistics Sweden. With young people continuing to flee the countryside and small towns in droves, employment figures are expected to drop in 215 of the country's 289 municipalities by 2010.

According to the statistical prognosis, three quarters of Sweden’s municipalities are set to lose a combined total of 60,000 jobs over the next three years.

To varying degrees, these areas were characterized by low birth rates, ageing populations, stagnant labour markets and high unemployment.

Eleven municipalities in particular were expected to see an eight percent reduction in the number of people employed by 2010. Emmaboda in southern Sweden is a case in point, with a large proportion of young people leaving the town immediately after high school to begin higher education.

Project manager Weronica Stålered, who is employed by the council to encourage people to move to Emmaboda, told The Local she was optimistic about the challenges ahead.

“We do have an ageing population, which is a tough nut to crack. We have to focus on emphasizing the importance of training people for jobs in the healthcare sector,” she said.

She added that the town was currently preparing for the future by building more homes for the elderly.

“Even though unemployment is very low here it is natural for young people to leave to get an education. Many of them come back when they have small children,” said Stålered.

According to Tor Bengtsson, an analyst with Statistics Sweden, the country first began grappling with the problem of rural depopulation in the late 1960s.

“But it really started to accelerate around 20 years ago,” Bengtsson told The Local.

Young people in the areas worst affected moved away to the nearest major towns and cities, never to return.

With a level of education lower than in the rest of the country, the agency was concerned that many councils would find it difficult to recruit qualified professionals for essential services.

“I don’t believe there will be any sort of catastrophe though. We will just need to adapt and find solutions, as we always have done,” said Bengtsson.