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October 18, 1998
Wanted: More young immigrants

Falling birth rate, aging population worry the experts




Without youthful immigrants, Canada will have far too few young people to support a rapidly aging society, demographers say.

That warning comes in the wake of the latest volume of the Canada Year Book, an encyclopedic look at Canadians and how they're fearing.

"We're in a bind. Demographically, we're addicted to immigration and we can't kick the habit," says David Baxter, executive director of the Vancouver-based research firm Urban Futures Institute.

A demographic teeter-totter -- on one side Canadians are aging, on the other, they're having fewer babies -- will change the way our cities look and the jobs and services they provide in the next 20 years, the 1999 yearbook says. And without immigration, the balance would be hopelessly lost, demographers say.

But Canada has never had a policy that focuses on the need to keep a certain proportion of the population young, says demographer Baxter.

"Nowhere do we have the coherence of a policy that acknowledges we need to import young people. We're on the bow of the Titanic, but we're not looking at the iceberg out there."

Among the facts:

1. Every day, 1,000 babies are born in Canada. That may sound healthy, but in fact, it's a historic low. Only 366,200 infants were born in 1996 -- down 3.1 percent from the year before, the largest decline in 26 years, to a rate of 12.7 babies for every 1,000 people.

2. The number of birth in Canada has increased 42 percent since 1921, but three provinces -- British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario -- accounted for all the growth. "In every other province in Canada, there were fewer births in 1996 than there were in 1921," according to an Urban Futures Institute report. "It is somewhat staggering to think there are fewer children born in the seven remaining provinces now than there were three-quarters of a century's ago."

3. The 5.9 million children in Canada under 15 account for only one fifth of the population, a 10 percent decline from 30 years ago.

4. Not only are fewer women having babies, they're having fewer of them. The fertility rate declined in 1996 to an almost historic low of 1.59 live births per woman. That was lower than the rate in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Australia.

5. The rest of us are getting older. In 1951, Canadians 65 and over made up 8 percent of the population, or slightly more than one million people. By 1996, there were 3.5 million seniors, more than 12 percent of the population. And by 2020, as baby boomers hit old age, more than one in five Canadians will be seniors.

6. We're also living longer. More than three-quarters of a million Canadians were over the age of 80 in 1996, twice the level of 25 years ago. and about two-thirds of them were women.

With age comes illness, disability and greater health costs.

"The golden years do not arrive free of life's scars," the yearbook says. "The aging baby boomers will no doubt place unprecedented stress on the health-care system."

Only immigration can keep the teeter-totter in balance. It's the key reason the population is still growing and not aging even more rapidly.

" By setting immigration targets, the federal government is actually ensuring our continued population growth," the yearbook says. "With our birth rate at such an all-time low, our projected population level of 37 million by the year 2016 would be much lower without growth from immigration."

Two-thirds of those immigrants are younger than the baby boomers, which may ensure boomers' ability to retire in future, Baxter said.

Young working people pay taxes that support the health care and pension plans on which seniors rely.
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2001-11-4 -04:00
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