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Yukonomist: The greying of the Yukon

It’s the kind of thing you might see in a society that suffered a major war twenty years ago

More Yukoners are deciding to spend their golden years here, rather than retiring Outside.

The Yukon Statistics Bureau’s latest demographic report shows how our population has changed over the last ten years.

While the total population went up 18 per cent over the period, the number of Yukoners over the age of 60 went up more than three times as fast. Those aged over 75 went up 65 per cent and Yukoners in the 65-74 age bracket more than doubled.

Meanwhile, youth under 15 years were up only 12 per cent and the 15-29 year-old cohort went up 4 per cent, a surprisingly small increase.

For most of human history, the demographic chart has looked like a pyramid. There are lots of children, fewer adults, and a small number of seniors. This was the world of high birth rates and high child mortality. Healthcare was sketchy as you grew older, and it was tough to keep up with your roving band of mammoth hunters if you needed a new hip.

As you can see from the Yukon Statistics Bureau chart on this page, the Yukon’s chart looks more like a wonky hourglass. We have fewer young people than middle-aged cohorts, and the number of youngsters has not changed too dramatically over the last decade. The number of Yukoners older than 55 has grown substantially.

If you look closely at the Yukon’s chart, you see bulges of people in the 25-34 and 55-64 age ranges. In contrast, the 40-49 group is smaller.

It’s the kind of thing you might see in a society that suffered a major war twenty years ago.

We don’t know for sure, but this might be the aftershocks of slow economic times around the turn of the century. Some Yukoners who were in their early twenties may have moved away. Then the surge in government hiring and resource jobs in the last decade attracted Outsiders a decade younger.

All of this has important implications for the Yukon.

Our healthcare budget will be under increasing pressure, since older citizens tend to use the system more intensively. It also means that tax revenue per citizen will likely go down on average as retirees make up a higher portion of the population. It also means that our housing stock will need to adapt, with more single-level units for example rather than cabins with lofts and rickety ladders.

The good news is that, even though our population is aging, it remains relatively young in absolute terms.

Experts from Statistics Canada visited last week, and shared a fascinating presentation on the Yukon’s statistical highlights. One of their charts showed the “dependency ratio,” which looks at the proportion of the population who are seniors and children. In 2017, 29 per cent of Yukoners were over 65 or under 14. This is lower than all the provinces, which ranged from 35 per cent for PEI to 31 per cent for Alberta.

However, this will change if the number of older Yukoners keeps surging.

While this creates challenges for the officials who run the healthcare system, it offers also opportunities to Yukon workers and businesses.

If your profession is popular with older people, you can expect lots of job opportunities. This includes everything from home-care workers to optometrists.

There will be lots of business opportunities too. One of the biggest will be in real estate.

The condos popping up along the waterfront in Whitehorse are home to lots of Yukoners who have downsized from bigger homes either in or out of town.

The new development going in at Third Avenue and Hawkins Street is specifically aimed at Yukoners who are ready to leave the home they raised their kids in, but aren’t ready for Whistlebend just yet. The marketing pitch highlights the benefits: walking distance to downtown, close to lots of bike trails, no stairs or driveways to shovel.

Demand for this kind of housing is likely to keep climbing.

Employers should also think more seriously about how to attract and accommodate older workers, especially given our labour shortage. Statistics Canada’s data show that almost 40 per cent of Yukon seniors are working either full or part-time. That’s nearly double the national average.

We don’t know how many of these working seniors are doing it voluntarily, since they are in good health and enjoy the engagement, or involuntarily since they need the money. In either case, as people live longer we should expect a greater percentage of the workforce to be over the traditional retirement age. Smart bosses are already figuring out how to tap into this experienced talent by offering flexible hours or buying ergonomic equipment that is a bit easier on older bodies.

Although statisticians sometimes say that “demographics is destiny,” trends can change more easily for a small jurisdiction like the Yukon. A slowdown in either our transfer payment or the mining sector could slow down or even reverse growth in our working age population. But for people already in the Yukon, it seems likely they will continue to stay through retirement in growing numbers. The greying of the Yukon is a trend that’s here to stay.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist.