Friday, March 07, 2014

London, Ontario and its 20 to 44-year-old population ... is it really so bad?

For its London X event this past weekend, Emerging Leaders republished some analysis from about a year ago of the 2011 Census that suggested London was doing a poor job of attracting and retaining people in the 20 to 44 age range when compared to other municipalities. At the time it was originally published, I looked it over and had some questions about whether London's numbers were really that bad, but didn't look into it more closely ... until now.

I'm going to use figures for the City of London rather than the London census metropolitan area (CMA), which includes eight municipalities, some of which are very different from London. London accounts for 77% of the population of the CMA, so there often isn't a big difference between the two, but the London CMA includes the farming-heavy communities of Adelaide Metcalfe and Southwold and the heavily working-class municipality of Strathroy-Caradoc, as well as St. Thomas. Looking at the CMA is worthwhile (and I have those numbers too), but if we're looking to draw conclusions about London, I'd rather focus on the data for London itself.

Looking at the 2011 Census numbers, for percentage of residents in the 20-44 age range, London ranks in the top five percent among all municipalities in Ontario. If we narrow that down to a somewhat arbitrarily chosen list of 58 larger municipalities and regions in the province, with a concentration on Southwestern Ontario, it looks like this:

(Some of these overlap—for example, Strathroy-Caradoc and Middlesex Centre are both part of Middlesex County. The "Essex" shown here is Essex County, not the Town of Essex.)

This is one of London's strengths. It's not in the elite 36%+ group with Toronto (37.6%), Kitchener (37.1%), Brampton (36.9%), Waterloo (36.4%) and Guelph (36.2%). But, at 34.6%, it's just slightly below Ottawa, Barrie and Kingston and ahead of a lot of Ontario's bigger cities, including Mississauga, Cambridge, Windsor, Oshawa, Hamilton, Brantford, Peterborough (which I didn't put on the chart), Burlington, and St. Catharines.

London clearly has a solid population base in the 20-44 age range, but what about growth rates? That was the focus of the Emerging Leaders analysis, and there's no question that the numbers aren't as favourable here. Still, London is far from being the worst performer and could probably be called middle-of-the-pack.

This is the change in the population aged 20-44 at the time of the 2011 Census from that at the time of the 2006 Census. London falls below the provincial average—which was pulled up by some good numbers in a few municipalities (the GTA and Waterloo Region had some strong performers). But ranking below London, you'll find Mississauga, Cambridge, Brantford, Hamilton, Barrie, Sudbury and even Waterloo, along with St. Catharines and Windsor.

Not a great result, but not notably bad either.

But there's another way to look at growth rates that I think is worthwhile. The Census is held every five years, and the number of residents is broken down into five-year age ranges. People in one age group in the 2006 Census would move into the next higher age group in the 2011 Census and the difference would come from deaths (more significant for older age ranges) and the net gains/losses from people in that age range moving in and out of the municipality. You can track those changes as that cohort moves along.

People aged 20-44 in 2011 would have been 15-39 in 2006. When you compare those two groups, you find that London actually had a gain of 2,285 people in that cohort between 2006 and 2011. That is, there were 2,285 more people aged 20-44 in London in 2011 than there were people aged 15 to 39 in 2006.

So London is attracting people in that age range, although most of the gains are in the 20-24 group. That's probably what you'd expect in a city with a university and a college. The top performers in 20-24 growth rates—Kingston, Toronto, Waterloo, Guelph, Ottawa, London—are all cities with universities. (And those same cities—with the exception of Ottawa—all place near the bottom in the growth rates for the cohort that was in their 30s in 2011. It looks like lots of people come for university and then lots of people leave over the next few years.)

A gain of 2,285 people sounds good, although it's still a middle-of-the-pack growth rate. In fact, Mississauga and Cambridge both leapfrog over London in this cohort growth ranking.

After you break it down further by age range, this is where you do find London near the bottom in some rankings. London's cohort-based growth rates for residents who went from being 25-34 in 2006 to 30-39 in 2011 were among the lowest of these selected municipalities. That would be consistent with the hypothesis that younger workers are hitting a wall in their career development and looking elsewhere, although there could be other factors involved. Waterloo's growth rates were even lower, as were Toronto's (for the group entering their late 30s, anyway), which surprised me, since I would think Toronto picks up a lot of people through immigration.

It's the suburbs that have the high growth rates for this cohort—Woolwich and Wilmot in Waterloo Region and Middlesex Centre in the London area are all at the top of the list. Middlesex County (which includes Middlesex Centre) has a strong growth rate for this cohort. That could be a useful topic for further research from Emerging Leaders.

Still, going back to the non-cohort view, even if you ignore residents in their early 20s—where London performs best—and just look at the 25-44 range, London still scores above the provincial average for its concentration of residents and just below the average for growth rate (see bar charts below).

There's certainly room for improvement. Other than Hamilton and Windsor, most of the municipalities that I think London would like to compare itself to place higher on one or both of these charts (just barely, in Waterloo's case), so it's worthwhile to look at ways to help make the numbers even stronger in 2016, 2021 and beyond. At the same time, there are plenty of municipalities in the province that would love to have London's numbers. They aren't great, but you could do a lot worse.

These charts and statistics are generated from spreadsheets that got increasingly complex as I went along, so there's always a possibility that I goofed up a formula along the way. I did some quick checks, but that's all I have time for. All the raw data for the 2006 and 2011 Censuses are available from the Statistics Canada website.

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