11 February 2014

Understanding Population Changes #nlpoli

It seems like Danny Williams can’t go two weeks without getting his mug on the news so it wasn’t surprising that on Monday the Old Man called the media together to unveil the latest name for his land development project south of Mount Pearl.

He wants to call it Galway.  Nice for his mom. But not really very newsworthy especially since to the rest of us, the land development scheme will always be Udanda or one of the dozen other names local wags have stuck on the thing.

After the show, reporters asked the Old Man about the latest population projection for the province.  This one is from the Conference Board of Canada and it concludes – not surprisingly – that the longer term trend for the population in Newfoundland and Labrador is downward.

“In my opinion, it’s absolute bullshit,”   said Williams.

It isn’t bullshit, of course, and despite what he said on Monday, the Old Man knows exactly what is going on in the province’s population.  That classic Williams contradiction – the truth versus what he said – makes it’s worth taking a look at the issue in greater detail to understand just what the population projections are all about. 

“So where do they come up with this?” Williams asked. 

Here’s where.

A population projection is based on a study of trends in births, deaths, and migration. That’s what the Conference Board projection used to makes its forecast. That’s also what the provincial finance department’s economics and statistics branch uses for the annual estimates it makes.

You’ll find plenty about the demographics at labradore and at SRBP over the past eight years or so. We’ve broken it down all sorts of ways and what follows is drawn from all those posts in one way or another.

Coming and Going

Migration – movement into and out of a region – is closely tied to economic development and job prospects.    In August, labradore produced a neat discussion of provincial demographics that included this tidy chart of the migration patterns over the past decade:

Here’s how labradore put it:
On the interprovincial migration front, outmigration has fallen in the past year, which might be a positive demographic and economic indicator. However, there is little sign of an increase in interprovincial in-migration, which is unusual behavior for an economy that is supposedly booming and suffering a labour shortage. In-migration rates were higher in 2008-2009, which is a typical pattern for Newfoundland and Labrador whenever there is, as there then was, a North American recession. (As above, this chart shows four-quarter rolling sums, not individual quarterly figures.)
That pretty much describes the trends in the picture.  Bear in mind that the figures in that chart ended in the first quarter of 2013.  While it looked like the out-migrants were dwindling in 2013, the most recent figures show that more people left the province in 2013 than moved into it.

In a post last September, SRBP compared population trends in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.  Statistics Canada’s annual population estimates reported that Saskatchewan saw a record increase in 2011/12 of 22,000 mostly due to immigration.  A booming economic was drawing them in like flies.

By comparison, Newfoundland Labrador’s population the gains from international migration were offset by migration from the province to the rest of Canada.  The result was a population that was pretty much where it had been the year before.  As with all these things, Statistics Canada even provided a pretty chart to help everyone see what the numbers looked like.

Demographic growth rate, 2010/2011 and 2011/2012, Canada, provinces and territories
For his part Williams insisted that people would come here in droves because the economy was doing better than ever.  Well, people have been saying that, but the actual population numbers just don’t bear that out.  They are flocking to places like Alberta and Saskatchewan.  Here?  Not so much.  We’ll get further into that on Wednesday Thursday.

Living and Dying

Hang on, some of you are saying, Williams did say that when he came into office, the finance department crowd predicted a decline in population.  “Well, right now,”  Williams told reporters, “I think the number I saw today was 525 or 527 (thousand). We’ve grown by 18,000 people.”

That makes it sound like the finance officials got it wrong.  They didn’t, as Williams well knows from his years of having to address the annual decline in population.  The finance department officials prepare three sets of predictions – called high, medium, and low -  based on different assumptions.  When Williams came into office, two of the three projections called for a decrease in the provincial population.

That’s what happened.

The current projections include recent history.  Sure enough, after Williams came to power in October 2003, the population went down, as predicted.  It bottomed out in 2007.  Since then, population has gone up.  It’s not up by 18,000 as Williams claimed but by about 11,000.

The “low” scenario currently has the population dropping from now until 2026.  The “high” one forecasts the population will be about 5,000 souls larger by 2026.  And the “medium”  scenario  - which seems to be the one that comes closest to what’s actually been happening – also forecasts a modest drop in population by 2026.

When you look at that, consider the assumptions behind the “medium” forecast.  Births are expected to stay at the current rate.  Life expectancy continues to increase according to recent trends.

And then there’s migration.  The same assumptions apply in all three scenarios, although the words are a wee bit different:
Strong net in-migration is assumed through to 2015 due to increased levels of employment and construction activity related to the Hydromet facility in Long Harbour, Hebron, and the Lower Churchill. Net out-migration is assumed to return in 2016 and 2018 as construction activity related to the Hebron project ends. Net in-migration is expected to return in 2019 and gradually increase thereafter to fill new jobs that are expected to be created as well as to replace baby boomers as they retire.
We can’t be a dying race

The Canadian Press story on the population projections included this observation by a Statistics Canada demographer:
"Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province for which up to now we've seen three years of negative natural increase," [Laurent] Martel said from Ottawa.
That’s not a new phenomenon in newfoundland and Labrador.  We’ve seen it for some time now.  Nor is it a new idea for politicians like Danny Williams.  In 2007,  the provincial Conservatives introduced a $1,000 bounty for women who gave birth to a live child or who adopted a child.  The goal was to stimulate natural increase in population.  “We can’t be a dying race,” Williams told reporters in 2007. Not surprisingly, the cash incentives didn’t work. 

But what you have in the bootie call cash itself is proof that Danny Williams knew all about the demographic trends in the province.  Since Williams has been familiar with the provincial figures, odds are good that he is also familiar with the projections for the metropolitan St. John’s area.

They show that the population of the capital region is forecast to increase, even in the “low” scenario.
Danny’s mom didn’t raise a complete fool.


Thursday:    The Booming Economy