How good is the growth in Nova Scotia?

How good is the growth in Nova Scotia?

< Back to Articles | Topics: Trends | Contributors: Margaret Chapman, Narrative Research | Published: September 2, 2022

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of change. We see this every day as we emerge from the current stage of the pandemic and witness the major economic challenges of inflation, and rising interest rates. In this environment, it is helpful to examine demographic and psychosocial changes to provide context for organizations to make more informed decisions. Narrative Research has been understanding behaviours and societal trends for nearly 45 years, and this wealth of data gives us a prism through which to examine current conditions.

Atlantic Canada’s population has historically been more rural than the rest of Canada, but with recent waves of immigration, inter-provincial migration and urbanization, this is beginning to shift in Nova Scotia, albeit slowly. As of 2021, 41% of the province’s population lived in rural areas (defined as living in an area with a population of 5,000 or fewer residents). This is more than double Canada’s average of 18%. For governments and businesses, providing services in areas where populations are dispersed can prove challenging. But the trend toward urbanization is evident. For example, in 2021 Halifax’s population grew by 9.1% — close to double the growth rate of the province as a whole.

Nova Scotia’s population is changing in other ways as well. Last year, we welcomed 9,000 new permanent residents, a record-breaking year, and our population growth is now nearly meeting the Canadian average of 5.2%. Nova Scotia grew at 5% from 2016 to 2021 — much higher than the 0.2% growth experienced in the previous 5-year period. Our retention rate for new immigrants was also the highest in Atlantic Canada at 71%, meaning people generally want to stay here once they arrive.

The composition of our immigrant population is changing as well: the top five source countries in 2021 were India, China, Philippines, South Korea, and Nigeria. Welcoming new immigrants from a variety of countries brings new opportunities and a new mix of perspectives. As a business community, we need to continue to find ways to integrate new immigrants into our region to ensure this high retention rate is maintained.

We believe population growth is positive, but only if our economy is also growing. We have monitored consumer confidence in our region for decades, and current levels are worrying. In our most recent survey of Nova Scotians, confidence hit a record low — well below levels experienced at the start of the pandemic. Consumer confidence is often the canary in the coal mine, foreshadowing tightened spending as Nova Scotians are wary of making major purchases.

We also monitor working Nova Scotians’ economic circumstances. Our latest data on the subject suggests that only a minority of employed Nova Scotians received a pay increase in the previous year, and those pay rises were, on average, trailing inflation. This means fewer dollars available to spend on discretionary items, although some household savings likely were accrued during the pandemic related to remote work and a lack of travel / vacations. Moreover, Nova Scotians’ lives are changing because of economic conditions. People are driving less, limiting the number or distance of trips, changing the type of food they buy, and a quarter of the population is assuming more debt — in part due to the increased cost of living. That same quarter of the population indicated they are stressed about the total debt they are carrying, and some are concerned about whether they will ever be able to pay off their debts.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that unemployment is extraordinarily low, and most of those who are employed feel secure in their employment. Most employees have a high level of commitment to their employers and are satisfied with their job. But many employees tell us they are looking for flexibility in how they work, and there doesn’t seem to be a ‘one-size fits all’ situation in terms of location: half prefer to work on site, a third wish to work remotely, and 17% seek a mix.

Changes in environment, public opinions, and the economy are never easy to navigate as a business community, but understanding the context of changes can help to provide some guidance as we chart our course for the future.

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< Back to Articles | Topics: Trends

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