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Kittiwake Economic Development Corporation

The eKubator Project

Roots in the rock? - What can be done to retain Newfoundland's youth?
November 30, 2001
{Author: eBerg Staff}

The Conference Board of Canada estimates that, by the year 2020, the demographic aged 19-38, which currently represents 31 per cent of the population in Newfoundland and Labrador, will decline to 19 per cent. For HRDC's central region, which spans from Marystown west to Springdale, the demographic aged between 19-25 lost 2,000 people between 1991 and 1996.

The Finance Department of Newfoundland and Labrador said that, between 1996-2011, the number of people aged 12-18 will have declined by 36 per cent, from 62,725 to 30,827 ("Fewer People in Province", Evening Telegram, March 7th, 2001.)

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency has also warned that Newfoundland and Labrador's population may fall below 500,000; largely due to halving of employment in the fishery, tightening of the EI program and cutbacks in public sector spending.

Outmigration of our youth has to be considered one of our culture's greatest tragedies. Youth are our future, and when people see our young people leave, they often see the future of our province going with it.

Moving in search of a job has traditionally depleted the human capital complement in rural areas. The decline in job growth in urbanized regions has re-emphasized attention to rural youth retention as a rural development strategy. Mobility for individuals 20 to 24 years of age from rural to urban is high. In Understanding Rural Canada: Structures and Trends, Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi, Chief Statistician of Canada, notes that between 1986 and 1991, 19 percent of rural youth moved from rural to urban centres. Those who moved had a higher labour force participation rate (89 percent), lower unemployment rate (13 percent), a higher school attendance (33 percent), a higher share had some university education (37 percent) and their incomes were higher.

The message circulating within popular, governmental and social scientific discourses is overwhelmingly bleak - regional communities are dying; youth are disenfranchised; regional services are withdrawing; and the rural community has been forgotten.

In the midst of this moral panic, there is one belief that is gaining currency in popular discourse: that 'if only 'we could curb population loss, preserve regional communities, and keep young people at home then everything will be all right'. The contrary argument is that some rural communities cannot or do not have career opportunities tailored to today's youth, or the services, infrastructure or lifestyle offering to make staying attractive.

What of this population loss? Countries around the world with competitive job markets - Malaysia and Iceland, for example - encourage their young people to move abroad, gains skills and experience and eventually return home to work and contribute to the economy. In the early 90s, Ireland was decimated by the outmigration of its young people. A decade later, Ireland's economy is the envy of the world - and its young people have returned. It remains to be seen whether young Newfoundland expatriates will be coming home, although many provincial recruiting initiatives, such as Operation Online's Bring IT Home, are working to achieve this goal.

The entire dialogue surrounding outmigration is characterized by "the glass if half full" versus "the glass is half empty." While some argue that young people leaving to work is beneficial, the questions still remains as to whether they will, in fact, return. Is outmigration a natural flow of young residents of a smaller centre to a larger centre? Is our province on the brink of a human resources crisis and skills shortage in the years to come? If it is our "Best and Brightest" who are leaving, how can our province expect to compete in a globalizing economy where brains are knowledge are the most valuable capital? Should we be working harder to encourage our young people to stay and work in Newfoundland and Labrador?

As expatriates, we welcome your thoughts. Why did you leave? Would you return, and under what circumstances? What do you think can be done to keep youth in Newfoundland, and particularly our rural communities? Join our forum on outmigration here.

What can be done to keep youth in the province?