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Economic Growth and Tighter Labour Markets in BC: Some Implications of the Demographic Shift Ahead

Most people are aware that the population in Canada and other western countries is aging, that longevity is increasing, and that the front‐end of the large baby boom generation has started to retire. Fertility rates have also fallen, which means the future supply of workers will be restricted.   But how quickly will the population grow, and age, in the coming decades? Will there be a dramatic shortfall of working‐age people?   

This issue of Policy Perspectives briefly reviews current population projections for BC, shining a spotlight on a few key demographic variables. The findings underscore the steady aging of the provincial as well as the national population.   It is also clear that immigration plays a significant role in the changing demographic landscape – within a decade, it will be the only source of population growth for both Canada and BC.  Immigration can also help temper the pace – but not reverse the reality of – population aging.

Highlights

  • BC’s population growth has slowed.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s annual population growth averaged 2.6%; in the second half of the 90s it slipped to 1.5% and then eased to an average pace of 1.0% in the 2000s.  In recent years, population growth has averaged 0.9%.
  • In the coming years population growth is projected to pick up slightly (as a result of more interprovincial migration) and then steadily ease back to around 1% by 2025 and then down to 0.8% by 2035.
  • By 2027 the natural increase in BC’s population falls to nil.  Immigration and migration from other provinces become the only reason BC’s population grows.
  • BC’s population is aging. The number of people aged 65 and over is growing at four times the rate of the number of working-aged people (25-64).
  • Currently, there are 31 persons aged 65 years and up for every 100 working aged persons (25-64). By 2025 this ratio rises to 41 and to 48 by 2035. In other words, within two decades there will essentially be one “retirement-aged” person in BC for every two “working-aged” persons.
  • BC’s population is becoming more urbanized. About 70% of BC’s population lives in the province’s four largest metropolitan areas and this proportion is projected to rise gradually.
  • The working-age population is growing much more slowly outside of BC’s large urban centres.
  • An older population will put additional pressure on public expenditures while governments’ revenue raising capacity is diminished with a smaller fraction of the citizenry working.
  • Governments will need to look to policies and incentives that can keep people working longer and boost labour force participation among groups that traditionally have been less likely to be employed. New incentives to locate in smaller communities may need to be considered.

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