As young people leave and the North's population ages, it could force business to 'close and move elsewhere,' states a new report
It’s not like it was 100 years ago. People these days, especially younger people, are leaving the North in droves to find work and a better education.
That’s one of the key findings in a new report released this week by the Northern Policy Institute (NPI); the first of four reports authored by research analyst Christina Zefi.
The report also revealed that as young people leave, Baby Boomers (born 1945 to 1965) are staying put and Northern Ontario is becoming “disproportionately older.”
The report, released on the NPI website www.northernpolicy.ca, says not enough young people are staying to provide tax revenue for local governments. It says a regional strategy is required to bring more new people to the North.
Postmedia asked Zefi what she believes is the main reason young people in the 20-to-29 age category are leaving.
“With that age group, perhaps it could be different job opportunities. Maybe they want jobs that are available in other regions. I think mostly with that age group, it’s the education as mentioned in the report,” she says.
It is a problem in every city and every territorial district in Northern Ontario.
“Since 1996, eight out of 11 of Northern Ontario’s districts have experienced a large population decline,” says Zefi.
Her report defines Northern Ontario as a collection of 11 census districts across a huge landscape with little more than 780,000 people.
“In analyzing trends across these districts, one thing is clear: Northern Ontario faces a number of challenges related to population growth. Specifically, the North has a low birth rate, an aging and declining population, and low in-migration rates that have caused the population to remain stagnant.”
One significant effect of this is with the population aging, more of those older people become dependent on the younger people who are still working, Zefi says. But as the working population numbers go down, it puts a strain on local economies.
“Many services in Northern Ontario, such as health care and pensions, are dependent on tax bases and are tax-financed. If the number of dependents exceeds the number of people working, delivering tax-dependent services to a rapidly declining population becomes very challenging,” the report says.
“If the number of people willing and able to work continues to decline, businesses in Northern Ontario will face an increasing shortage of workers, resulting in slow growth, low demand for goods and services, and a disincentive for private investment – all of which could force businesses to close and move elsewhere.”
The report also speaks about the dependency ratio. Ideally, it says, the ratio should be between 0.5 and 0.75, which translates to two working persons for every dependent person such as a child or a pensioner.
If this number changes, for example, to two dependants for every working person, the report says it would be unsustainable.
“By 2036, the dependency ratio is projected to be too high in nine of Northern Ontario’s 11 districts for their economies to be sustainable, with the highest ratios expected to be in Parry Sound and Manitoulin. Only the Greater Sudbury and Kenora districts are projected to have a dependency ratio within the range noted above, and then only just. Comparatively, the province as a whole is expected to have a dependency ratio of 0.67 in 2036,” states the report.
The other concern, Zefi says, is that if the out-migration trend continues, not enough people will be left to do the jobs in Northern Ontario.
“Even if there is 100 per cent labour force participation in Northern Ontario, there’s just not enough people to support the demographic shift that is going to be happening. So we need to attract new people who are willing and able to work.”
Zefi says the report is the first in a series looking into the demographic changes and population decline.
“The second one is going to talk about strengths and weaknesses to migrating to Northern Ontario,” she says, adding that it would require participation from Northern municipalities and the province.
So, where do things go from here?
“Hopefully, they can see the demonstrated need for a Northern Newcomer Strategy,” says Zefi.
“My hope is that there can be some changes made up at the provincial level in order to give Northern Ontario the tools to encourage migration to the region, and also for municipal leaders, I am hoping the fourth report will be a very accessible and easy to digest so they can be implemented at the municipal level, and municipalities can start work to encourage migrants to move to their communities.”
Since no one can legislate an upward change in the Northern Ontario birth rate, the report says the next best thing is to find ways to attract migrants from other parts of Canada and immigrants from around the world.
The report also reveals that immigrants tend to be well-educated and another study reveals that many are over-represented in fields of science and engineering.
“Individuals with these skills offer valuable economic benefits to any community,” states the report.
In its conclusion, the document also states that this is not a strictly Northern Ontario issue.
“It is important to remember that an aging population is not unique to Northern Ontario. As other parts of the world experience population aging, younger people are likely to migrate elsewhere to seek economic advancement and financial stability,” the report continues.
“Such a shift presents opportunities for Northern Ontario. For example, a Northern Newcomer Strategy could include pro-active policies and programs to attract young migrants. Indeed, while attracting newcomers is a short- to medium-term solution, it could have significant socioeconomic benefits for Ontario’s northern regions.”