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Go West, Young Adults: The 10-Year Western Boom in Investment, Jobs and Incomes

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If a young Canadian seeks economic opportunity—that is, employment and the chance to achieve at least a middle class income—which provinces can best provide those opportunities?

The data show that Western Canada is the land of opportunity for young adults, especially Alberta and Saskatchewan, and to a lesser degree British Columbia. In contrast, Ontario and Quebec now mimic the traditional Atlantic Canada “malaise.” Central Canada now has much more in common with Atlantic Canada than with the more dynamic, opportunity-rich economies in the West. Ontario and Quebec are not providing opportunities for young adults and have experienced a net out-migration of career-age young adults as a result. While Ontario and Quebec mimic Atlantic Canada’s poor economic prospects, Newfoundland & Labrador has turned the corner on some measurements—private sector investment, per-capita income, and weekly wage rates, for example—which may herald better opportunities for young adults there in the future.

Between 2003 and 2012, Alberta saw a net gain of 60,855 career-age young adults. British Columbia and Saskatchewan recorded a net migration gain of 10,643 and 581 people respectively in the cohort aged 25–34. Every other province lost a large number of young adults, even Quebec, at 24,355 people in the 25–34-year-old cohort, and Ontario at 27,451 career-age young adults.

Private sector investment is a fundamental precursor to employment growth and other opportunities. In 2012, private sector investment was $15,554 per person in Alberta, followed by Newfoundland & Labrador ($11,151), Saskatchewan ($11,098), British Columbia ($4,677) and Manitoba ($4,490). In Ontario, private sector investment per person was just $3,216, and in Quebec $3,180. Thus, Ontario performed worse than New Brunswick ($3,384) and barely beat Nova Scotia ($3,210) while Quebec ranked below both of those provinces.

Among 25–34 year olds, the ten-year annual average unemployment rate was significantly lower in the Prairies (Alberta, 4.2 percent; Saskatchewan, 4.8 percent; Manitoba, 4.9 percent) compared with Quebec (7.3 percent) and Ontario (7.1 percent).

The opportunities for young adults are evident in Western Canada. They are most consistently positive in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Meanwhile, Ontario and Quebec stand out as provinces in decline. Overall, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada are all losing significant young talent, mostly to Alberta.


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