Go West, Young Man or Woman

Frontier Centre, Media Appearances, Uncategorized, Workplace

Joseph Yun had just turned 25 and was living with his parents in Toronto, a year and a half out of university when he got a job in Calgary.

On impulse, he hopped into his car and headed west, to a city he never expected to live in.

That was four years ago, and he has set himself on a career path as a development planner with the city of Calgary.

"It's a fairly typical story," he says. In the rapidly growing city, he meets young people from all over the country who flocked to the west seeking opportunity.

After all, the migration of young people is particularly driven by the labour market, said Serge Coulombe, an economics professor at the University of Ottawa.

They also have less to lose and more to gain.

About 100,000 people left Ontario between 2003 and 2010 and about half of them are young people, he says. The rates of interprovincial migration are five to 10 times higher for people between 20 and 30 than for people who are 40 to 50.

Migration is also extremely susceptible to unemployment rate, notes a 2008 StatsCan report. As the unemployment rate rises 1 percentage point, the probability of migration increases 10 per cent.

So young people are headed to Alberta and Saskatchewan, both provinces with lower youth unemployment rates than the national 14.7 per cent.

Calgary has the most favourable hiring forecast for April to June in the country, followed by Red Deer, Alta., and Richmond-Delta, B.C., according to employers polled for the manpower employment outlook survey.

While the survey didn't look at the migration of young workers, there is a trend of skilled and semi-skilled workers who are under-30 making the move to Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Atlantic provinces, says Janis Sugar, director of marketing for Manpower Canada.

But opportunity isn't just knocking in Calgary.

In the northern Ontario town of Red Lake, there are 11 pages of available jobs from entry-level Tim Hortons positions to highly skilled mining positions, says Lisa Johnston, resource area coordinator at Red Lake career and employment services. The biggest barrier is rental housing, she says, but "there is a ton of opportunity if you can get a foot in the north," particularly for young people seeking work experience.

"We do have a significant disparity between where people are and where they need to be," says Steve LaFleur, a public policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Many parts of Saskatchewan, where he is based, are facing the same concern.

Generous social benefits can discourage people from taking risks, he said. "We need to find a practical balance to encourage mobility."

Still, overall, youth migration is following a familiar pattern in Canada, said Coulombe.

However, trends in the U.S. point to a risk-averse generation caught in stagnation. A recent essay in TheNew York Times on the "go-nowhere generation" said interstate migration was down 40 per cent since the 1980s for people in their twenties, and young people are living at home in increasing numbers.

Some of the reason is that young people, beaten down by the recession, believe luck counts more than effort. Others want to stick close to their hometowns. Young people are driving less, too, with fewer getting licences, notes the essay.

The recession in Canada did take its toll on migration, with fewer people leaving Ontario, says Coulombe.

And LaFleur says that the economic uncertainty did make young people more risk-averse, preferring to move back home with their parents.

But the trend remains in young people heading west.

"Mobility is very much about moving to opportunity," says Ross Finnie, an economics professor at the University of Ottawa.

"It's the history of our country and I'd be pretty surprised to see if that's not what is going on."