Many new pressures are defining and reshaping rural life. As the economy continues to shift, small businesses are being forced to shut down. Schools, crucial for training the next generation, are closing. Youth are migrating to urban cities, leaving behind populations of retirees with no one to replace their positions. While each community faces its own unique set of challenges, there are common struggles among Canadian rural towns overall:
Rural communities continue to see a slow decline in growth: the urban population in Ontario grew by 15.13% while the rural and small town population declined by 7.34% during 2001-2011.
Migration of Youth to Urban Areas and Aging Population
Youth play a vital role in the future success of every community, yet more and more rural youth are ‘leaving to learn’ - migrating to urban centres to pursue higher education and job opportunities. The migration of youth between the ages of 20 and 30 is the single largest factor responsible for declining rural populations in Ontario.
Lack of Immigrants
Immigration in Ontario increased by more than 124% during 2001-2011 (a growth rate of 12.4% per year), yet only 2.8% of these immigrants took up residence in rural areas of Ontario. With low birth rates across the country, immigrants are vital to growth in rural communities.
Low Levels of Skills and Earnings
The education levels of rural residents are, on average, significantly lower than in urban areas. In fact, as the distance between rural areas and population centres increases, the average level of schooling decreases. Furthermore, the average earnings of full-time workers in remote regions of Ontario is only about 67.8% of their counterparts in urban areas.
Lack of Services & Aging Infrastructure
Rural communities face major struggles such as generating enough municipal tax revenue to support aging infrastructure and services. Residents also do not have access to the same services that urban centres do, such as easy access to healthcare, child care, education and training.
Challenges in Workforce Planning
Given that many rural communities are aging and a large portion of their workforce are on the brink of retirement, it is increasingly important for rural communities to develop local strategies that will address their current and future local workforce issues – such as retaining youth and attracting immigrants.