Brock study shows Niagara region needs to do more to help stop population decline

Brock Students cheering on the Niagara IceDogs / Brocku.ca

There are plenty of people between the ages of 20 and 29 in the Niagara region, says a new Brock University led research study. The study, presented at a public presentation held at White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa in Niagara-on-the-Lake, says that the population of young adults in Niagara has actually gone up over the last 15 years.

“Though our growth is less than what was seen at the provincial level, this is the only area where we don’t have population losses, perhaps due to our post-secondary institutions,” wrote Carol Phillips of the Niagara Community Observatory and Adam Durrant of the Niagara Workforce Planning Board in the brief.

“The attraction of a younger skilled workforce has become a goal of municipalities across Canada. The presence of young people and young families is seen as a sign of a healthy, growing community. A younger labour force supports a stable tax base,”  says the brief. Right now, the Niagara region youth retention strategy is focusing on people in their early 20s, or those who are University and College age, or recent graduates and grad students.

The problem though, according to Phillips and Durrant, is in other age groups. Back in 2015, the regional council set up a plan to “increase Niagara’s ‘global attractiveness’ and improve economic prosperity in the region,” because the region’s population was not growing as quickly as that of the rest of the province.  Since then, studies have shown that Niagara’s 0-15 and 30-44 age cohorts actually have falling populations.

“This suggests that efforts to reverse Niagara’s aging population and slow growth by singularly attracting ‘youth’ would likely benefit from a wider focus.”

What does falling populations in these categories mean for Niagara? An aging population means more stress on the tax base, says the brief. Without young people to replace those who are retiring, the tax base shrinks, reducing the region’s ability to provide services to its citizens. The median age in St. Catharines-Niagara, which does not include Grimsby or West Lincoln, is 44.4, compared with 40.6 in Canada overall.

The statistics would seem to show that while young people are coming to Niagara for school at Brock University and Niagara College, which host over 18,000 and over 9000 students respectively, those young people are not choosing to stay and raise families.

“Immigration is now considered a key component to population growth,” say Phillips and Durrant. “On a local level, this is expressed as a desire for positive net-migration — that is, more people moving into the area from other cities and provinces, as well as other countries, than are leaving.”

How can that be done here in Niagara? Phillips and Durrant suggest job creation may be the key. “People tend to go where there is employment,” they say in the brief. “That was one of the high-level findings of a 2015 Niagara Region survey of young professionals and post-secondary students under the age of 35 who had left the community.”

Despite relatively low cost of living and high safety and desirability, the lack of job prospects makes it difficult for young people to remain in Niagara after graduation. In order to draw young families to the region, Niagara and St. Catharines will need to attract businesses to the region and create job stability where now it is perceived there is none.

 

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