When the time comes, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Generation Y may inherit a government crippled by aging populations.
Changing demographics have long been a looming storm cloud for the province, but as the so-called “grey wave” continues to sweep Newfoundland and Labrador, the future for the province’s youth looks bleaker and bleaker.
For three years in a row now, the province has experienced a negative natural population increase, meaning more people are dying than are being born.
That’s not surprising given the fact Statistics Canada data from 2011 shows Newfoundland and Labrador had the second lowest provincial birthrate, at 1.45 children per woman.
Furthermore, a recent Conference Board of Canada long-term economic forecast predicted the province’s population would dive from 527,000 to 482,000 by 2035, partly due to a rapidly aging population base.
When the report was released, the government argued the province’s population had, in fact, grown by 18,000 since 2007. But in doing so, it ignored the real issue facing Newfoundland and Labrador’s population.
It is not the current number of people living in the province that is the problem, but rather how that population is distributed by demographic.
According to the provincial government’s Economic and Statistics branch, the number of students aged five to 14 in the province in 1986 was 103,970. By 2012, that figure was essentially cut in half, coming in at a mere 53,200.
In stark contrast, the government’s Outlook 2020 report, published in 2011, predicts that by 2020, Newfoundland and Labrador’s population of people over 65 will have grown 44.7 per cent compared to 1986 levels, a 34,715 person jump.
While youth in the province continue to make up less and less of the population, elderly people, who rely more on the government for health care and social programs, continue to grow in numbers.
In fact, the province's demographic makeup is basically the inverse of what it should be. The model on which the whole system is based — a strong, abundant working-age demographic supporting a relatively smaller group of elderly retirees — looks to be becoming a thing of the past.
Over the past decade, the provincial government has tried a couple of times to turn the tide on the province’s rapidly aging population.
First, in 2007, the Williams government instituted a baby bonus for new parents, offering $1,000 up front and a further $100 per month over the following year.
But while the province’s parents no doubt appreciated the handouts, they were hardly serious incentives for having more kids. If parents were really factoring in costs as a measure of whether or not to have more children, $2,200 over a year would seem like a pittance compared to the long-term costs of raising a child.
According to census reports, though the number of births in the province increased slightly after the program was announced, by 2013, the birthrate had slipped back below 2007 levels.
Last year, the government launched its second effort to help rebalance the province’s population.
At the time, Premier Kathy Dunderdale announced that a new office would be created to develop a growth strategy for tackling the province’s ever-ominous demographic issues.
Unfortunately, the office’s resultant brainchild, the government’s Population Growth Strategy, has yet to produce any real results.
Details of the strategy, including plans to hold public meetings, were announced last September, but as for concrete action, the government has shown little movement on the matter thus far.
As things stand, Gen Y won’t just inherit an unbalanced population demographic, but also a government system based on an outdated population distribution model. Should the government continue to waffle on reversing the dangerous direction the province is headed in, Gen Y may have some tough years ahead of it.
Acting proactively could help to curb the lopsided demographic imbalance. But standing idly by, announcing one-time government handouts and holding public consultations, will do little to quell an impending population crisis.
Gen Y’s future depends on positive action now.
Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is studying journalism at Carleton University. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.