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One in four workers could be 55+ by 2021: StatsCan

Canada's workforce will barely grow over the next twenty years, according to a Statistics Canada report released today. And it will be a much older, more diverse workforce.

Using a number of population-projection scenarios, StatsCan foresees labour-force growth by 2016 to fall to under 1 per cent per year. By comparison, growth was around 4 per cent in the early 1970s as the baby boomers began to enter the labour market.

Among StatsCan's forecasts:

As the growth of the labour force loses momentum, the population of seniors aged 65 and over is projected to grow increasingly rapidly as a result of population aging and the entry of the baby boomers into this age range.

Consequently, according to all scenarios, the overall participation rate is projected to decline during the next two decades.

In 2010, the participation rate was 67.0%; by 2031, it is projected to range between 59.7% and 62.6%, which would be the lowest observed since the late 1970s.

... Between 2001 and 2009, the proportion of people in the labour force aged 55 and over rose from 10% to 17%, an increase of 7 percentage points in nine years. The first baby boomers reached the age of 55 in 2001.

This increase is projected to continue from 2010 to 2021, when the succeeding cohorts of baby boomers in turn reach 55. By 2021, according to three of the five scenarios, nearly one person in four in the labour force (roughly 24%) could be 55 years of age or over, the highest proportion on record.

Also, by 2031, the ratio of people in the labour force to seniors aged 65 and over not in the labour force, that is mostly retired people, is also projected to decline. In 1981, there were roughly six persons in the labour force for each retiree. By 2031, or 50 years later, this ratio is projected to decline to less than three to one, according to all five scenarios. The ratio is projected to decline in every province.

By 2031, roughly one in every three people in the labour force could be foreign born. Between 1991 and 2006, the percentage of foreign-born people in the labour force rose from 18.5% to 21.2%. If recent immigration levels were to continue, that proportion is projected to reach almost 33% in 2031, according to most scenarios.

For more than 20 years, Canadian immigration has come mainly from Asian countries. Consequently, between 1996 and 2006, the proportion of people in the labour force belonging to a visible minority group rose from 10% to 15%. According to most scenarios, this proportion could more than double to 32% by 2031.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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