What makes a city worth moving to?

Moving, in search of a better life

Election campaigns nowadays are too often dominated by wedge issues and efforts to make mountains out of molehills, but there are some encouraging signs that more substantial quality-of-life issues are wiggling their way into the nascent Manitoba provincial election campaign.

Take for example an article by Derek Holtom which appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press recently, asking why more people move away from Manitoba to other provinces than move here.

Between 2007 and 2010, 12,655 people left Manitoba for other provinces. During the same time frame, Saskatchewan added 14,393 from other provinces. And according to a report done by TD Economics, the trend appears set to continue. Manitoba is projected to lose another 6,750 to other provinces in 2011 and 2012, while Saskatchewan is projected to add another 7,434. Alberta and British Columbia are also projected to add more people from other parts of Canada, making Manitoba a big loser in terms of interprovincial migration in Western Canada.

Of course, Manitoba has done exceedingly well in terms of immigration. It does so well, in fact, that the province continues to grow despite interprovincial migration losses. Last year Manitoba welcomed 15,805 immigrants, more than making up for those who left between 2007 and 2010.

But the question remains, why are people leaving? Some argue taxes are an issue. Manitoba tries to position itself as a more affordable place to live with a lower cost of living. But Saskatchewan’s lower taxes and higher wages cannot be ignored. For example, Saskatchewan just raised their personal income tax exemption by $1,000 to $14,535. Manitoba just increased their exemption by $250 — to $8,384. That’s a stark difference when it comes to paying your taxes in May.

So why do people leave?

Manitoba is hardly alone in pondering this question. Statistics Canada data shows that eight out of 13 provinces and territories saw more people move out to other parts of Canada than move in in 2008-09. The only net gainers were Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon Territory.

And Manitoba, where 92 domestic migrants moved in for every 100 who moved out, was hardly the worst province in this regard.  Only 72 people moved into Quebec for every 100 who moved out to other parts of Canada, suggesting that the beauty of la belle province doesn’t make up for a perceived lack of opportunity.

The Northwest Territories also suffered a major shortfall, attracting only 74 domestic newcomers for every 100 who moved out.

Even Ontario, the traditional economic powerhouse of the Canadian economy and still a popular destination for immigrants, seemed to lose a lot of lustre in the eyes of Canadians, attracting only 80 people from other parts of Canada for every 100 who moved out.

To answer the question of what drives people to move from place to place around Canada, I took a second look at some data I had on hand with more than 90 pieces of data on each of 25 Canadian cities. Most of this data came from the 2006 census.

Specifically, I looked at how each piece of data correlated with the proportion of city residents who had moved in from out of province within the past five years. The further the score was from zero on a scale of -1 to +1, the stronger the relationship between the two factors.

An interesting picture began to emerge, as shown below. Canadians, it seems, are drawn to the coasts, or at least away from the heartland where the winters are the harshest.

Not surprisingly, Canadians also tend to move to places that have better job prospects, hence a strong relationship between a city’s employment rate and the concentration of recent out-of-province newcomers living there. Similarly, places with high levels of dependency on government income support tend to have little attraction to other Canadians.

(Click to enlarge)

(* – All factors above are statistically significant. Click to enlarge.)

But the types of jobs that a city offers also has the power to attract or repel people. Cities with larger business services and construction sectors tend to draw more people, as do those with jobs in the sciences, management, business, finance and administration. Manufacturing-dominated towns, however, were seen as distinctly unattractive places to live.

Cities with larger numbers of secondary and post-secondary graduates also tend to be more attractive. Yes, it’s true that those who are already well-educated tend to be more mobile than those who are not, but a city also needs a well-educated local population before it can start drawing similarly well-educated migrants from elsewhere.

Finally, there are signs that lifestyle plays a role. Cities where it’s possible and practical to walk or ride a bike to work have an advantage over more car-dependent cities; and cities with lower reported stress levels tend to be more attractive than higher-stress cities.

Median pre-tax and after-tax family incomes showed some signs of influence, but there was little to suggest that the difference between the two plays much of a role in choosing a place to live.

Housing costs were also neither a distinct advantage nor liability.

So the next time you hear Manitoba’s interprovincial migration rate being discussed in the media, remember this: it’s about climate, it’s about finding work, and it’s about lifestyle. And that Manitoba is neither alone in worrying about people moving away, nor is it the hardest-hit province in this regard.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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