The former head of Opportunities New Brunswick, Stephen Lund, wasn’t particularly interested in demographics when he first took the job at ONB. At our first meeting after I joined the Jobs Board he told me it wasn’t his business. His job was to convince firms to expand their operations in New Brunswick. Demographic concerns were for someone else.
Not long after Lund tells the story of speaking to an auditorium of high schoolers in Saint John and asking how many of them planned on staying in New Brunswick after graduation. He claims only a smattering of hands went up around the room.
He got interested in demographics real quick.
The link, of course, between demographics (more specifically workforce) and economic development is clear.
I think there is some evidence today’s youth in New Brunswick are even more prone to leaving the province than earlier generations – despite the irony of there being far fewer of them (and, at least in theory, less competition here for jobs).
I recently took a look at the population born in New Brunswick between 1971 and 2000. To be precise, I used the Statistics Canada data for those 0 years old in each year 1971 to 2000. That is not exactly the same as in-province births as some could have moved in as babies and a tiny number passed on. Further, because this data is annual estimates, it is not as precise as the Census data. However, for our purposes it is good enough.
In 1971 there were 11,564 under the age of 1 in New Brunswick. By the time that group turned 20 in 1991 there were 12,132 of them (or a 5% increase). By the time they turned 30, there were 10,397 in New Brunswick (or a 10% drop).
Remember there are lots of folks moving in and out each year so I am not saying that 10,397 of the 11,564 in 1971 were still around in 2001. I’m saying the population of that age had dropped by 10% over 30 years.
The chart below shows the numbers for each year through 2000 (for obvious reasons I don’t show the 30 year old data for those born after 1991).
What you see in the chart is a steep drop in the annual population under the age of 1 – but really only starting in earnest in the early to mid 1990s. Between 1971 and 1980, the population under the age of 1 increased by 26%. Between 1980 and 1990 it dropped by 20% and between 1990 and 2000 it dropped by 36%. For those of you old enough, remember David Foot.
But probably an even more important statistic is the 20 year decline in population. Despite everything going on in the economy, there was only a slight decline in the population born in the 1980s and early 1990s and the number in New Brunswick 20 years later.
But when you get into the group born in 1997 (the year Frank McKenna stepped down, by coincidence) through 2000 the population 20 years later started to fall precipitously. Among those born in 2000, there has been a 25% decline in the number in the province 20 years later.
Now we don’t have the data post 2000 because that group hasn’t reach 20 years old yet. We do know the number born in 2001and beyond has continued to decline (down another 18% between 2000 and 2020) and we will have to see if Lund’s concern and the trend we started to see in the late 1990s continues.
To me this actually makes sense.
Young people today travel more than ever. They are connected to populations outside their community and province more than ever. The cost and access of post-secondary education outside their province is easier than ever. Their access to media has been almost completely globalized. And, most importantly, the competition for their workforce services is higher than ever (beyond the Covid-19 bubble).
There are only two things we can do:
1) Make sure all young NBers are clear about their career opportunities in New Brunswick. Why move to Toronto to take an entry level job in a bank or insurance firm when you can get those jobs in the exact same firms right here in the province? Why move for an IT job in Vancouver when there are is a growing pool of great IT firms right here?
Now lots of young people want to leave to see a bit of the world. If they do, let them go. Don’t guilt them into staying. After they have sowed their oats so to speak, remind them of what they are missing back home.
2) For every one that leaves, bring in 1.5. It’s that simple. There are people lined up to move to Canada. It’s known to be one of the best places in the world to live (although at 17 below this morning….) and raise a family. Find folks who want to live in Canada and that have the skills and interest for the jobs on offer or the entrepreneurial ventures available.
This is the challenge of small jurisdictions – particularly small jurisdictions that do not control borders like a Canadian province. We can’t stop New Brunswickers from spending their tourism dollars elsewhere. We can’t stop Vestcor from investing all the public sector pension money anywhere but New Brunswick. We can’t stop people from moving out. We can’t stop goods from flowing in.
David Campbell’s 1.5 Principle
We just have to make sure that for every 1 that leaves, 1.5 comes back.
For every dollar lost to imports, we need $1.50 in exports.
For every dollar in lost investment as your public sector pension, RRSP, etc. is invested outside the province – we need to attract $1.50 in investment from outside the province.
For every person lost to outward migration, we need to attract 1.5 to move here.
For every New Brunswicker that goes to Toronto or New York or Disney to spend their tourism dollars, we need to attract 1.5 tourists from outside the province.
For every young New Brunswickers who leaves the province to study at university, we need to attract 1.5 from outside to study here.