"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

According to the innumerate Premier's office

[Updated and clarified in spots.]

Yet another example of innumeracy, and a stellar one of why the press should never take “according to the premier’s office” to be worth anything. From the December 22 issue of The Telegram:
Newfoundland and Labrador is bleeding again through out-migration. The province lost 700 people between July and October, according to Statistics Canada.

That's a drop of 0.14 per cent, cutting the province's population to 508,955.

According to the premier's office, the positive news is it is not near the scale of the drop in population between 1994 and 2001.

The province may be “bleeding through out-migration”… but the Statscan figures cited in the article are population totals only. Out-migration is only part of the picture.

There are four components which make up population change in any particular geography over a given span of time: births, deaths, in-migration, and out-migration. The net effect of births and deaths is called “natural change”; when there are more births than deaths, a population is said to have a natural increase. You can figure out what the opposite is.

Four all but four years since 1972, Newfoundland and Labrador has experienced net out-migration: more people leaving than arriving. (The reversals or lulls in the out-migration trend have the nasty habit of coinciding with their proximate cause: downturns in the national economy, especially in Ontario and Alberta whose populations had previously grown in part due to that outmigration.)

But for most of this time, all but two years before 1993, net-outmigration was entirely compensated for by a high natural increase. In fact, for much of its post-Confederation history, Newfoundland and Labrador had the highest ratio of births over deaths among all ten provinces; higher even than Quebec, whose famous revanche du berceau, in the 1950s and early 1960s, had not yet collapsed. NL was in top spot from 1951 (the first year for which good data are available) until 1979, when it was overtaken by Alberta, which has had the highest birth:death ratio ever since.

Even after 1979, NL was in second or third position throughout the 1980s. But by 1998, the province ranked 9th. It has fluctuated in rank since, but has been in 8th spot since 2003.

Little-reported amidst the hand-wringing about outmigration has been this other component of population change. In 2005-06, NL became the first province to record negative natural population change – that is, more deaths than births.

It may be cold comfort to know that even though NL was first across that dubious finish line, all provinces, even Alberta, are showing the same demographic trendline. By the end of this calendar year, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and possibly even PEI, are likely to have crossed the same demographic marker. All other provinces except Alberta are on a track to see natural population decline within the next decade; Alberta will stave it off, at current trends, until the early 2020s.

But it is not only demographic definitions which make it important not to take “according to the Premier’s office” as the imprimatur of truth, or even truthiness.

The Premier’s office says the latest Statscan figures are “not near the scale of the drop in population between 1994 and 2001.”

Wrong. It is, in fact, right within that scale.

Between 1994 and 2001, the province had a net annual migration averaging -6,240 persons. It’s a negative number, so that means out-migration. This figure was offset by an average 5,374 births in the province, and, after subtracting deaths, an average annual natural population increase of 1,238. After net out-migration is factored in, the province still has lost population every year since 1992.

The 1994-2001 time period also includes the province’s three worst years for outmigration, 1996 to 1998, since Statscan began tracking. But after waning (though far from disappearing) for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, outmigration began tracking upward again in 2003.

Net outmigration in the first quarter of 2006 was -1,829. Annualized, this would result in an annual net out-migration figure of -7,316 — only marginally worse than the 1996 outmigration figure of -7,436, in the middle of the period “premier’s office” says was much worse.

A quarterly net population decline of 700 – again, that’s the net effect of natural population loss (more deaths than births) and net out-migration (more people moving out than in) – works out to an annualized population change of -2,800.

In 1994, the first year of the “premier’s office” period, the population dropped by -2,663.

If the net population loss of 700 in the third quarter of 2006 does, in fact, reflect an annual population loss for 2006 of about -2,800 people, then it will represent a more-than-doubling of the province’s annual population loss since the -1,355 figure recorded in 2003. So far in the Williams Era, the problem of population decline has gotten worse.

And remember: in that period between 1994 and 2001 that “the Premier’s office” referred to, the province maintained a natural population advantage of nearly 30% more births each year than deaths, partially offsetting the outmigration losses.

Now that figure is negative. There is no revanche du berceau to fall back on.

In several key respects, the provincial demographic situation in 2006 is as bad as the darkest days following the moratorium.

In others, it is again trending towards those same levels.

And in certain key components, the situation is already much worse. Outmigration is feeding natural population decline through the departure of large swaths of the birth-producing cohort of younger men and women. This further skews the population pyramid towards more elderly age cohorts, and with a lower overall population, increases the rate of deaths relative to the total population, as well as relative to the number of births.

The next big demographic shockwave could easily be the slumping of the overall population below the socio-psychologically significant half-million mark.

If current demographic trends continue — and if the recent tendency of those trends to accelerate also continues — that day is coming sooner, rather than later.

Comparing the latests figures to those recorded post-moratorium is dubious math at best, and at worst, a cynical statistical shell game by the Williams bunker.

In all fairness, Tobin and Grimes invariably and dizzyingly, spun the slightest positive demographic uptick that could be gleaned from the torquiest torquing of Statscan quarterly figures.

But this statistical turd is far beyond the Premier’s office’s best skills to polish.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home