SA Data Wrap – Our ageing regions

In this edition of the Data Wrap we consider the latest regional population estimates which emphasise that not only do South Australian regions face demographic challenges in terms of falling or slow growing populations, but also population ageing. We also review the latest results in respect of retail sales, building approvals and job vacancies.

Our ageing regions
New estimates of regional population by age and gender from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reinforce the demographic challenges facing South Australia’s rural and remote regions in terms of population ageing.

Approximately 21 per cent of the South Australian non-metropolitan population was aged 65 years and over compared to 17 per cent of the metropolitan population at 30 June 2017. These broad regional results hide the degree of population ageing in some rural and remote areas. Of the top 25 local government areas in terms of the relative size of the population aged 65 years and over, 23 were located in rural and remote regions.

Local government areas with the largest aged dependent populations, at least in relative terms, include Victor Harbor (39 per cent aged 65 years and over), Yorke Peninsula (32 per cent), Barunga West (32 per cent), Orroroo-Carrieton (29 per cent), Alexandrina (29 per cent), Yankalilla (28 per cent), Kingston (28 per cent) and Copper Coast (28 per cent). All of these councils are located outside Greater Adelaide. Metropolitan councils with the largest aged dependent populations include Holdfast Bay (24 per cent), Walkerville (22 per cent) and Burnside (21 per cent).

While population ageing for some regions has been brought about older people moving to the region for lifestyle factors such as sea change (e.g. Victor Harbour), for most regions it is due to the long term trend of young people leaving for further education and greater career opportunities. Emigration of working age people due to a lack of new job creation and economic shocks (e.g. mining downturn, closure of key employers) is a further contributing factor. The net effect of these migration flows are slower population growth and smaller working age populations. This in turn has negative implications for future regional economic growth given the reduction in labour supply, loss of skilled workers, and loss of cohorts with relatively high spending power (e.g. prime age adults supporting young families).

Retail sales maintain moderate growth
Retail sales data released today suggests that consumer spending in South Australia continues to expand at a moderate pace. The value of South Australian retail sales measured in trend terms rose by 0.2 per cent in August to be up 3.1 per cent over the past year. These results are in line with the national trend, with retail sales up 0.2 per cent in August and up 3.4 per cent over the past year.

Building approvals moderate
Building approvals data released on Wednesday shows the number of new dwellings approved across South Australia was down 3.6 per cent in the month of August and down an almost equivalent margin over the past 12 months.

A similar story applies to the value of building work approved, which was down 2.1 per cent for the month and down 14 per cent compared to the same time a year earlier.

While the latest building approvals data point to a moderation in building activity in the short to medium term, both the level of building activity and approvals remain near historically high levels, which suggests that building activity should remain reasonably healthy.

The latest South Australian results are also broadly consistent with national trends. The number of dwelling units and value of building approved across Australia were down 9.1 per cent and 10 per cent respectively through the year to August 2018.

Job vacancies rise
Latest job vacancies data provides some cause for optimism in light of recent signs that employment growth in South Australia has plateaued. The number of job vacancies in South Australia in August 2018 was 11,900, an increase of 31 per cent from the same time last year (nationally job vacancies were up 17 per cent). Job vacancies have increased for three straight quarters now, although the rate of increase was slower over the recent August quarter.

The steady rise in job vacancies suggests that employment growth may resume once again in the short term. However, this depends on existing unemployed people having the right mix of skills and experience that employers are seeking.

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