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No ‘quick fix’ for Newfoundland and Labrador’s problems

With data from Statistics Canada, the Vital Signs report shows how income is shared among demographics in the province.
With data from Statistics Canada, the Vital Signs report shows how income is shared among demographics in the province. - Contributed

Harris Centre’s Vital Signs report cites province’s ongoing challenges

High health care expenses, a waning, aging population, and a slow economy show continued need for innovation to get through the problems facing Newfoundland and Labrador.

The fifth annual Vital Signs report, issued by Memorial University’s Harris Centre, gives a snapshot of what’s happening in the province.

Looking at economics, the report shows a higher average household income of $77,071 in 2017, compared to $69,685 in 2012.

But average household savings have shown a drop: $6,170 in 2012 down to $2,705 in 2017.

Harris Centre executive director Rob Greenwood says higher household wages, but significantly lower savings, shows economic troubles “coming home to roost” for families in the province.

“We really did have a period there where the rising tide did raise almost all boats. Economists use the term economic exuberance,” said Greenwood.

“Human beings, you know, we’re complicated, but we’re also predictable. When times are going great, we just seem to think it’s going to keep going that way.”

Breaking down the average personal income by demographics, men made an average of $56,724 in 2016, compared to $34,259 for women. Indigenous people made an average of $40,528 in 2016, while immigrant populations took home an average annual income of $67,644.

Greenwood says the economic downturn has shown some positive signs as well, particularly when looking at the local start-up and entrepreneurial community.

“Necessity is the mother of invention. If young people can come out of university and go straight into a six-figure job, fewer of them are going to think about starting a business,” said Greenwood.

“We’re seeing innovations. We’re seeing start-ups. The community that goes to the hacking events around software, the hacking health initiative, the Genesis Centre, they’re all booming.”

Health care

High prescription rates appear to correspond with high health care costs in the province.

For every 1,000 people, 955 of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were prescribed some kind of antibiotic in 2016, compared to 625 out of 1,000 as the national average.

While the cost of a standard hospital stay is generally consistent with the national average ($6,060 in N.L. compared with $5,992 in the rest of Canada), per-capita health care spending is very high: $4,912 in this province, compared to $3,970 as the national average.

Demographics

Looking at population in the province, the total population is still higher than it was in 2011 (514,526) compared to the 2016 figure (519,716).

Most regions of the province saw a decline in population from 2011 to 2016, with major centres seeing increases (Northeast Avalon, Deer Lake-Jackson’s Arm, Central Labrador, Gander-Gambo, and Trinity-Conception Bay), while rural areas of the province have shown a decrease.

The total immigrant population of the province also showed an increase over that period: 9,160 in 2011, 12,080 in 2016.

Greenwood says what’s not quite represented is the recent trend of outmigration in the province. He says the province is going to have to adapt to that reality, if the trend can’t be reversed.

“When you look at the overall changes in fertility rates, the aging population and the projections as a result region-by-region, I compare it to climate change,” said Greenwood.

“We need to do what we can with mitigation, but for the most part the horse has left the barn. Adaptation in climate change is essential. The same thing with population change. Yes, mitigation, let’s have more family-friendly policies. But, man, we need to really emphasize how all the population can be more productive, more innovative and do more with less.”

Greenwood hopes the Vital Signs report can spark conversation and innovation about the challenges facing the province. While the report is not prescriptive, by sparking conversation, Greenwood says the public and policy makers can come together to solve the challenges ahead.

The Telegram and The Western Star are a media sponsor of the Vital Signs report. Funding partners are Crosbie Group Ltd., Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs, Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, Memorial University, Choices for Youth, Woodward Group, PAL Aerospace, and YMCA of Newfoundland and Labrador.

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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