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

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Census sensibilities II

As is entirely predictable, there's been a great deal of reaction to the latest census figures, most of which falls under the general headline of "Population Declines".

But there are interesting things happening below the surface, if you care to take a closer look.

For statistical purposes, Statistics Canada divides provinces into Census Divisions and Census Subdivisions (CSD). In Newfoundland and Labrador, each municipality is a separate CSD. However, smaller, unincorporated localities are aggregated together into unromantically numbered-and-lettered CSDs within each division.

Examined at the CSD level, some interesting trends appear which the coverage hasn't yet picked up. For example, CBC reports:

South of St. John's, communities like Bay Bulls are effectively becoming suburbs of the capital city.

Scott Penny moved to Bay Bulls four years ago, attracted by the land prices and lower taxes. He is now a councillor, promoting a town that still has a rural appeal with — via a 30-minute commute to downtown St. John's — proximity to the city's amenities.
True enough. But then:

Farther away from St. John's, however, a different demographic story is playing out.

From Cape Broyle to Trepassey, for instance, every community on the shoreline has lost population, and the fishing industry that attracted settlers in the first place has practically disappeared.
While it's true that every incorporated community south of metro St. John's, and in fact around the shore to the Avalon Peninsula's Placentia Bay coastline, has lost population in the past five years, the unincorporated areas in between have not.

For the visually-inclined here's a map. The baseline map and raw data are from Statistics Canada; they, however, bear no responsibility for any blogger's errors in transcribing the data to this map. (Click to enlarge.)

Population change by Census Subdivision, Newfoundland and Labrador, 2001-2006

At first, the growth trends in the unincorporated parts of the Avalon Peninsula could be dismissed as merely at continuation of creeping St. John's exurbanization.

But the phenomenon is fairly new: in the 2001 census, only 33 of 381 CSDs showed any population increase, of which only nine were unincorporated areas, and of those, only one was on the Avalon Peninsula. It was not, however, on the Irish Loop or Southern Shore. The latest census, however, shows 83 CSDs with population increases, 34 of which have increased by more than 10% since 2001. And of those 34, 24 are unincorporated areas.

Furthermore, the trend is geographically widespread, manifesting itself as far afield as the Codroy Valley, the Humber Valley, the Gros Morne area, portions of the Burin Peninsula, even the Labrador Straits, and across a wide swath of central Newfoundland from Red Indian Lake to the shores of Bonavista Bay. This has occurred even as the shire towns of many of these regions have themselves experienced population decline.

The other area of Newfoundland with marked population growth is "around the bay"; Conception Bay, that is. Communities, and again, especially, unincorporated areas as far as Bay Roberts and environs are showing increasing signs of becoming more and more, from an economic and demographic point of view, suburbs and exurbs of St. John's.

But it's the unincorporated areas that make for the most interesting puzzle. There are 91 of them. Four of them are recording as having a population of greater than zero in 2006, having registered no inhabitants at all in 2001. Discounting the six which are unpopulated, 42 of 85 showed population increases. While incorporated municipalities, and the province as a whole, showed a population decline of -1.5%, the unincorporated areas showed a decrease of only -0.8%, half the going rate.

More startling, the combined population of the municipalities which grew (disregarding those which fell) grew by 5.2%. For unincorporated areas, the comparable figure is an astonishing 15.8%. In the entire province, only four incorporated towns, plus the Natuashish reserve, had population growth over 15%.

Assuming, for argument's sake, that this observation is not the result of changing methods at Statistics Canada, what is to be made of it? Is there a back-to-the-land movement afoot? Are people retiring to ancestral home communities after careers spent in larger centres, or even out of province? Are people adopting unincorporated residences-of-convenience in order to eliminate their municipal tax burden? Is the growth in cellphone and wireless communication allowing for a rural lifestyle that was unimagineable even ten years ago?

If it is true that rural areas are "dying", then someone forgot to tell the most rural parts of Newfoundland, the hundreds of unincorporated villages and homesteads that are home to over 56,411 people.

If these numbers survive post-censal calibrations, then it would appear that one set of historical trends — the post-moratorium exodus — may be coming to a close. And while an exodus continues, this time stimulated not so much by hardship at home as by a superabundance of opportunity elsewhere, another trend may just be beginning.

"Population decline" is not only not the full story of the census, it's not even a very good headline. There are other, larger, factors at play. Someone needs to get a good handle on what they are. A detailed study of they whys and hows of the latest provincial demographic picture, internally, and with comparative reference to other parts of rural, small-m maritime Canada, would be worth its weight in fact-finding missions to Iceland and cultural exchanges to Ireland.


At 10:56 PM, March 14, 2007 , Blogger kodak said...

Great analyses and observations on both I & II. Breaking down what this means is a sensible approach. It begs lots of questions right now, like what are the factors involved that attract people to those unincorporated areas, and what can be learned? What is the demographic of those inhabitants? It could be a trend that more retirees, partly because of a growing aging baby boomer population, are moving there - smaller homes, cheaper land, or communications advances like you said? It should be studied more.

At 11:37 AM, March 16, 2007 , Blogger we'jitu said...

Well f*** it, I been at this for the past two hours and I cannot for the life of me find your reference to natuashish and its increase in population...before I go crazy, whereis it located William!?

At 11:50 AM, March 16, 2007 , Blogger WJM said...

Fifth para from the bottom.

At 8:18 PM, March 16, 2007 , Blogger we'jitu said...

No I meant the reference in stats canada

At 12:29 AM, March 17, 2007 , Blogger WJM said...

No I meant the reference in stats canada data

Go to the Statscan site > Census > Community profiles.

Remember, though, that you're comparing Natuashish, which only came into existence since 2001, with the former Utshimassits, which comprised close enough to 100% of one of the former Unorganized subdivisions of Census Division 10, in 2001 and prior years.

At 8:59 PM, March 17, 2007 , Blogger we'jitu said...

Thank you. If you ever see me you have my permission to knock me over the head.
Natuashish actual population increase according to the figures is slightly over 20% !!! That would be something to crow about except...That census was in April? If so the transient population was included and distorts the stats quite a bit. The last census showed quite a few of the population with various degrees (Transient teachers) and such which makes a true anaylsis difficult.

At 1:53 PM, March 18, 2007 , Blogger WJM said...

That census was in April? If so the transient population was included and distorts the stats quite a bit.

No, it doesn't. First of all, for census purposes, those "transients" are residents of Natuashish. And second, there were also teachers, nurses, RCMP officers, etc. in Davis Inlet at the time of the last census as well.

At 8:47 PM, March 18, 2007 , Blogger we'jitu said...

Well maybe not in your definition of "distortion". But there are no "locals" with degrees so the data makes the community look good education wise. So when the Mushuau Government wants to use the data to talk about education and suggest the need for more relevant education, then someone could come back and say well the education system must be working because you have 30 people with an education degree according to the last census....

At 8:55 PM, March 18, 2007 , Blogger WJM said...

So when the Mushuau Government wants to use the data to talk about education and suggest the need for more relevant education, then someone could come back and say well the education system must be working because you have 30 people with an education degree according to the last census....

And someone, with or without an education, will be able to make the same counter-point that you have just done!


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