Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On the Albertan advantage over the United States

Back in 2006 and 2007 I blogged about how the demographics of the Canadian province of Alberta were being altered by that province's substantial oil-driven prosperity, attracting migrants from across Canada. Ricardo Lopez' Los Angeles Times article "Canada looks to lure energy workers from the U.S." is the first article I've seen talking about Americans being attracted to Alberta.

With a daughter to feed, no job and $200 in the bank, Detroit pipe fitter Scott Zarembski boarded a plane on a one-way ticket to this industrial capital city.

He'd heard there was work in western Canada. Turns out he'd heard right. Within days he was wearing a hard hat at a Shell oil refinery 15 miles away in Fort Saskatchewan. Within six months he had earned almost $50,000. That was 2009. And he's still there.

"If you want to work, you can work," said Zarembski, 45. "And it's just getting started."

U.S. workers, Canada wants you.

Here in the western province of Alberta, energy companies are racing to tap the region's vast deposits of oil sands. Canada is looking to double production by the end of the decade. To do so it will have to lure more workers — tens of thousands of them — to this cold and sparsely populated place. The weak U.S. recovery is giving them a big assist.

Canadian employers are swarming U.S. job fairs, advertising on radio and YouTube and using headhunters to lure out-of-work Americans north. California, with its 10.2% unemployment rate, has become a prime target. Canadian recruiters are headed to a job fair in the Coachella Valley next month to woo construction workers idled by the housing meltdown.

The Great White North might seem a tough sell with winter coming on. But the Canadians have honed their sales pitch: free universal healthcare, good pay, quality schools, retention bonuses and steady work.

"California has a lot of workers and we hope they come up," said Mike Wo, executive director of the Edmonton Economic Development Corp.

The U.S. isn't the only place Canada is looking for labor. In Alberta, which is expecting a shortage of 114,000 skilled workers by 2021, provincial officials have been courting English-speaking tradespeople from Ireland, Scotland and other European nations. Immigrants from the Philippines, India and Africa have found work in services. But some employers prefer Americans because they adapt quickly, come from a similar culture and can visit their homes more easily.

The Canadian-American border is porous, and throughout its history has not been much of a barrier to migration whether we're talking of Americans moving north or Canadians moving south. If traditionally the flow south to the United States has been greater than the flow north into Canada, that relates to the tendency for the United States to be a more attractive destination for migrants, offering higher wages and whatnot, than Canada. (In a historical coincidence, Alberta and its neighbouring province of Saskatchewan once saw substantial American immigration, a consequence of the agricultural districts of those two provinces being opened up to colonization at the end of the 19th century as adjacent districts of the United States were finishing up the process.)

Alberta's ongoing labour shortages are a matter of public record.

Alberta has the highest job vacancy rate in the country, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and that is translating into close to 55,000 unfilled private sector jobs.

The CFIB said Tuesday that as Canada’s labour markets continue to recover from the 2008-2009 recession, the percentage of unfilled private sector jobs increased slightly from 2.3 per cent in the second quarter to 2.4 per cent in the July-to-September period.

The latest 2.4 per cent vacancy rate is equivalent to about 275,900 full- and part-time private sector jobs, said the CFIB. Canada’s construction industry has the country’s highest sectoral vacancy rate (3.7 per cent), although hospitality (2.9), agriculture, forestry and fishing (2.8), oil, gas and mining (2.8) and professional services (2.7) are also high.

Alberta and Saskatchewan have the highest vacancy rates (3.6 per cent each), while Newfoundland and Labrador (2.8) is also above the national average. Quebec (2.4), Prince Edward Island (2.2), Ontario (2.1), Manitoba (2.1), British Columbia (2.1), Nova Scotia (1.9) and New Brunswick (1.8) either match, or fall short of the overall rate.

“The smallest firms have the highest job vacancy rate and are being hit the hardest by labour and skills shortages,” said Richard Truscott, Alberta Director for CFIB. “The considerably higher rate in Alberta also clearly refutes the assertion by some labour leaders that there isn’t a shortage of qualified labour in our province.”

[. . .]

Ben Brunnen, chief economist with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said the vacancy numbers are consistent with the strong economic growth the province is experiencing.

“If the global economy remains stable, labour shortages are going to be the single greatest impediment to economic growth confronting Alberta. These vacancy numbers demonstrate that,” said Brunnen.

“It’s very possible that we’re right at a peak level of vacancy rates for the province … The global economy is at its highest risk of going into a recession since four years and we’ve seen some of the investment numbers for Alberta stabilize a little bit. However, we also are seeing the greatest period of net interprovincial migration since 2006. So that means people are coming to fill the job vacancies. We might see a bit of a plateau in terms of the total jobs created right now. So hopefully we’ll see a bit of an alleviation in the next few months of the labour shortage in Alberta.”

But if the global economy remains relatively stable and the United States economic picture is strong, the labour challenge could persist for Alberta employers, added Brunnen.

What's interesting to me is the extent to which these shortages are attracting substantial numbers of American migrants, a product of strength in Alberta and weakness in the United States. It'll be interesting to see where this goes in the long run, since as Brunnen notes the direction of the American labour market matters substantially.

(I'm also curious about American reactions to emigration as an idea, not least in the context of American exceptionalism and the sense that, generally, the United States is one of those countries that people travel to in order to find their fortunes, not the other way around. How is this limited change being received?)

On two ways Irish workers coming to Canada can find jobs

Reading the previous month's issue of Toronto Life, I was interested to come across Robert Hough's "The Celtic Invasion: why the arrival of hundreds of Irish construction workers benefits Toronto’s building boom". The main people Hough uses to illustrate the post-boom migration to Toronto are James and Sean McQuillan, brothers in their mid-20s from Dublin whose jobs as construction workers came to an end with the boom. For them, Canada was an appealing option.

What I particularly liked in Hough's article was an extended passage examining how the McQuillans, coming to Canada, came to find jobs. There's a very long history of Irish immigration to Canada, of course, and any number of networks imaginable. Two networks, though, stand out. One of these is Gaelic football, a sport that I described in January 2011 post as being hit hard by the emigration of its players--perhaps the game is itself channeling and encouraging migration. The other? Authentic Irish pubs.

Toronto has long been an Irish city. When the potato blight ravaged Irish farmland in the late 1840s, 38,000 Irish arrived in Toronto, which at the time had a population of only 20,000. While the majority of these immigrants either moved on or died from illnesses picked up on the unenviable journey over, about 2,000 stayed, making an Irish city all the more so. The Belfast of the North, as Toronto became known for many years, earned a reputation as a good place to settle, particularly when the Canadian economy was flourishing and the Irish economy was not. This happened again around the turn of the 20th century, and there was another wave of immigration in the 1950s, when Ireland became mired in a tenacious postwar recession. A large number came from Northern Ireland during the Troubles of the 1970s, and there was another surge when Ireland’s economy stalled in the 1980s.

For Irish arriving in Toronto today, there are two tried-and-true ways to find work. The first is by playing Gaelic football, a uniquely Irish game that, at least to the uninitiated, looks like soccer, North American football and rugby all rolled into one. Thanks to the most recent exodus of unemployed Irish, participation in Gaelic football has become a global phenomenon; there are now 10 Gaelic Athletic Association squads in the GTA alone (seven male and three female), and GAA teams have popped up in such unlikely locales as Dubai, Buenos Aires, Berlin, Beijing and Shanghai. “We exist as a welcome mat for new Irish arrivals,” says Mark O’Brien, an ex-president of the Toronto area GAA. “By playing football, they can meet people, make contacts and find work. The Irish, you know, are famous for helping each other out. It’s important to us, ’cause we were all helped by the older fellas when we came over.”

There’s one catch: to benefit from the GAA’s network of contacts, you have to be a decent player. Though Caolan Quinn plays with a Toronto GAA team called St. Vincent’s, the McQuillans do not: growing up, they preferred soccer. So the brothers resorted to the other ironclad method of procuring employment in Toronto: they went to the pubs.

Though there are probably 100 Irish-style pubs in Toronto, most of them are owned by corporations, frequented by non-Irish and operated by publicans without useful insight into the happenings back home. But there are a handful of
real Irish pubs. There’s McVeigh’s at Church and Richmond, which, among the older Irish, is always referred to as the Windsor House, the name it had 25 years ago. There’s McCarthy’s, a hole in the wall on Upper Gerrard near Woodbine. And there’s the Galway Arms on the Queensway in Etobicoke; the Galway benefits from the Gaelic football crowd, who play their games at nearby Centennial Park.

James and Sean visited all these pubs, nursing pints of Keith’s, talking to locals and bartenders and letting it be known that they were looking for carpentry work. (They also hung around a sports bar called Shoxs for the simple reason that it was just around the corner from their apartment. Here, they both started dating Canadian-born waitresses. James’s girlfriend is named Erin, Sean’s is Stacey; both are 23 years of age.) About two weeks after coming to Toronto, a bartender at the Galway Arms referred the brothers to an Irishman named Joe Wilson, who owns a company called Clonard Construction. Wilson met with the boys, and by the following Monday they were working at the new condo development at Yonge and Bloor.

“The first thing that struck me about them,” Wilson says today, “was how young they looked. But other than that, they were like all the Irish who come over: they were just desperate for work. It’s a real shock to the system, having to leave home just to find work.”

I recommend the whole article. It provides an interesting look at how migration can be successful and relatively painless. (The big question is how can these social networks be replicated.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

An addendum on demographics and American politics

As the American presidential election seems all but certain to end with an Obama victory based on a wide victory in the Electoral College and near-parity in vote totals, I thought I'd revisit my posting earlier this evening about the Republican Party's significant problems in attracting voters outside of its core white Christian demographics by touching on the comments of Republican-leaning television commentator Bill O'Reilly about the effects of changing demographics on American elections. (I got the quotation from SEK of Lawyers, Guns and Money, here. If it is incomplete or incorrect, please, correct me!)

O’REILLY: All right. Because black birth rate is fairly stable, right?

MCMANUS: Proportionately, black birth rate and increases in their population will level out and be less significant in growth in that time period. I think Bill will be able to address the numbers better than I can, but…

O’REILLY: OK. And how about Asian? What’s the situation with that?

MCMANUS: Asian — we’re going to see a 213 percent increase, according to the Census Bureau projection, and so that will be a very rapid increase of the percentage of their population in the U.S. as well.

O’REILLY: All right. Now, Doctor, the Census Bureau really doesn’t tell us how this is going to affect the country. Do you have any theories on it?

WILLIAM FREY, PH.D., BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I really think what’s happening is going to be this phasing out or fading out of the white baby boom population. It is a 50-year time period we’re talking about… O’REILLY: Yes. We’ll all be dead. Thank God, right?

"We’ll all be dead. Thank God, right?"

All I can say is that these comments would indicate that O'Reilly, at least, has a profoundly depressing view of the prospects for his favoured party and his country. His preferred ideology and political party aren't capable of convincing people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Instead, they're simply a heritable (but not necessarily inherited?) belief system of a particular group?

On the factor of changing demographics in the 2012 United States election

Last night I shared on my Facebook wall Nate Silver's estimate that the odds were more than nine-to-one in favour of Obama's re-election. We'll see in a few hours how accurate that was. One factor contributing to what, at the very worst for Obama's prospects, would be a very close race will be a demographic factor, specifically the Republican Party's worrisome lack of strength among the United States' large and growing non-white populations. Take Jonathan Martin's Politico article, which starts from the scene of a misleadingly Republican Party rally in Ohio.

Regardless of whether Romney wins or loses, Republicans must move to confront its demographic crisis. The GOP coalition is undergirded by a shrinking population of older white conservative men from the countryside, while the Democrats rely on an ascendant bloc of minorities, moderate women and culturally tolerant young voters in cities and suburbs. This is why, in every election, since 1992, Democrats have either won the White House or fallen a single state short of the presidency.

“If we lose this election there is only one explanation — demographics,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

But Republicans are divided on the way forward. Its base is growing more conservative, nominating and at times electing purists while the country is becoming more center than center-right. Practical-minded party elites want to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, de-emphasize issues like contraception and abortion and move on a major taxes-and-spending deal that includes some method of raising new revenue.

[. . .]

“If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts,” said Graham. “We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”

Of the party’s reliance on a shrinking pool of white men, one former top George W. Bush official said: “We’re in a demographic boa constrictor and it gets tighter every single election.”

Poster J.F. at the Economist blog Democracy in America goes into more detail about the precise factors. (Thanks for the link, Leeman.)

As the article explains, "If President Barack Obama wins, he will be the popular choice of Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban’s possible he will get a lower percentage of white voters than George W. Bush got of Hispanic voters in 2000. A broad mandate this is not." Absolutely. How dare he try to cobble together a majority using blacks, Latinos, single women (not to mention Asians, Jews and gays, all of whom will support Mr Obama by large majorities), "highly educated urban whites" and leave "real" white people out. Perhaps to correct for this strategy we ought to weight non-white votes differently from white votes. Three-fifths has a nice historical ring to it, doesn't it?

Joking aside, here is a fearless prediction: at some point, either tonight or after all the voter data has been collated, a talking head will refer to minority turnout as "unprecedented". These voters, you have no doubt heard, delivered the election to Mr Obama in 2008, and they will be credited again for showing up in such large numbers if he wins tonight. But while Mr Obama's star power may propelling higher minority turnout in the short term, simple demographics is the real cause of the changing electorate. Minority turnout has been "unprecedented" in presidential elections going back to 1988, and it should stay that way for many elections to come.

Pew's Hispanic Centre has dissected the changing face of the electorate. In 1988, whites made up 84.9% of voters; by 2008 that share had dropped to 76.3%. The share of black voters, meanwhile, rose from 9.8% to 12.1%, Hispanics from 3.6% to 7.4% and Asians from unlisted to 2.5%. True, the rise in black voter-share from 2004 to 2008 was quite sharp, and much of it can plausibly be attributed to the thrill of voting for America's first black president. But black voter-share had been rising since Mr Obama was still called Barry.

The broader trend in population is quite similar: the share of whites has been declining as the percentage of blacks, Hispanics and Asians has been rising (see here and here). Prediction is a mug's game, but it hardly counts as going out on a limb to believe that trend will continue. Here's a paper from Pew forecasting that by 2050 Hispanics will comprise nearly one-third of the populace, Asians nearly one-tenth and whites less than half (the black population will remain constant, according to the forecast).

This shift has had a huge impact, undermining many former Republican strongholds. Micah Cohen's post last week at Five Thirty Eight, "In Nevada, Obama, Ryan and Signs of a New (Democratic-Leaning) Normal", goes into more detail about Nevada's changing demographics and changing political trends over the past half-century.

Nevada was once reliably red, favoring the Republican candidate relative to the national popular vote in every presidential election but one — 1960 — from 1948 through 2004. The Silver State’s rightward bent began to dissipate in the 1990s and 2000s. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, carried Nevada in 1992 and 1996, although he was helped by the independent candidacy of Ross Perot, Mr. Damore said.

In 2004, Nevada was almost exactly at the national tipping point, only 0.13 percentage points more Republican-leaning than the nation. Then in 2008, Nevada made the switch. Mr. Obama won nationally by seven percentage points, and he carried the state by 12.5 points. For the first time since 1960, Nevada was more Democratic-leaning than the country.

In 2010, Nevada showed signs that 2008 was not an anomaly. Harry Reid, the Senator majority leader who was battling a Republican wave nationally and poor approval ratings locally, upset expectations (and the polls) to defeat the Republican Sharron Angle in Nevada’s Senate race.

[. . .]

Nevada led the nation in population growth for the past two decades, more than doubling in size to 2.7 million, from 1.2 million in 1990. Fueling that growth has been Democratic-leaning demographic groups: Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans. While Nevada’s non-Hispanic white population grew by 12 percent from 2000 to 2010, African-Americans grew by 58 percent, Asians by 116 percent and Hispanics by 82 percent.

Non-Hispanic whites are still a majority in Nevada, but barely, comprising 54 percent of the state. Hispanics are 27 percent, African-Americans are almost 9 percent, and Asians are about 8 percent.

The state’s booming population has also made Nevada more urban, as the growth has been focused primarily in and around Las Vegas and Reno. Nevada is now the third most urban state in terms of population, according to the 2010 census.

Rural Nevada — which has not seen the population boom that Las Vegas and Reno have — is still overwhelmingly Republican. But it accounts for only about 15 percent of the state population, Mr. Damore said.

Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, is home to more than 70 percent of Nevadans. It is a majority minority county and a Democratic stronghold. The core of Las Vegas is the most left-leaning and predominantly Hispanic and African-American. The Las Vegas suburbs are more politically competitive, similar to suburban communities in Colorado or Virginia, Mr. Damore said.

Why this weakness? Chris Thompson's June article in Rolling Stone, polemical though it may be, places its causes squarely and--I think--accurately--on a fair perception among Hispanics and other groups that the Republican Party doesn't like them very much.

Today, California is competing with Massachusetts and Vermont for the title of bluest state in the Union. Democrats utterly dominate state politics and run all the major cities from north to south, Los Angeles to the Bay Area.

As for the state’s Republicans, they used to roam the freeways and cul-de-sacs in great, thundering herds. Now, they cling to a few isolated enclaves along the beaches of San Diego, farmlands of the Central Valley, and retirement communities near the Oregon border. And they are old and white in a state that's increasingly young and brown.

Two decades of immigration and changing demographics have steadily eroded the Republican base in the Golden State. But rather than adapt to this new reality, the state party lurched deep into the far-right swamplands of American politics. As the state grew more socially liberal, the last of the Republicans doubled down on conservatism, and sank into irrelevancy.

[. . .]

From the late 1960s through the ‘80s, California was a Republican paradise. White suburban families propelled men like Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and governor George Deukmejian to the heights of power, and Orange County, just south of LA, was synonymous with political and cultural conservatism. But by the early 1990s, the Party’s base was growing more and more anxious. The aerospace and defense industries were shriveling, and metropolitan liberals were spilling over from Hollywood and San Francisco, transforming cities like San Jose from farm communities into expensive high-tech centers. In the biggest and most visible shift, the Latino population was surging, making up 25 percent of the state’s population by 1990.

In 1994, incumbent Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, faced a tough reelection fight. The recession was still lingering in California, and he had to answer for it. His Democratic challenger was Kathleen Brown, the sister of Jerry Brown and a tough political fighter. Wilson needed something to distract voters from the economy – something that would spook enough of them into rallying behind him.

He found it. Wilson pulled his campaign together by running on two divisive state ballot initiatives – Proposition 184, the notorious "Three Strikes" law, which played into suburban residents’ fear of crime, fears stirred up by the Rodney King riots just two years earlier; and the sinister Proposition 187 – the "Save our State" initiative, which conjured images of parasitical Latinos swarming into California and proposed denying social services such as public education and some medical care to the children of illegal immigrants.

"They had a famous ad that showed undocumented immigrants streaming across the border, and it was sort of the rats streaming onto the ship," says Bruce Cain, a UC Berkeley political science professor and longtime observer of California politics. "It was extremely offensive, but it worked for Pete Wilson."

Did it ever. Not only did Wilson win reelection, the Republicans made historic gains in the state legislature, winning a majority in the state Assembly for the first time in years. But the strategy would prove to be the white sugar of California politics: tasty in the short term, but disastrous in the years ahead.

As the 1990s wore on, Republicans overplayed their hand, pushing one racially-tinged wedge issue after another at the ballot box, banning Affirmative Action, ending bilingual education in the public schools, and enacting a new round of draconian punishments for juvenile delinquents. They rode these propositions to victory, but alienated the Latino population and propelled a wave of white resentment that now defines Republican politics. "It was a case of, 'Hey this worked, let’s keep pushing that button,'" Cain says. "But once you start doing that, you unleash forces within your own party that you can’t really control."

[. . .]

Aside from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – who was elected only by dint of a bizarre recall circus in 2003, and was despised by his own conservative base – almost no Republican has won statewide office since the mid-1990s. From Latinos to black voters and urban professionals, the Republican Party managed to alienate every growing segment of California society, all for the sake of inflaming the passions of the one demographic group that was actually shrinking.

[. . .]

Now, the damage is clear. Latinos comprise 37.6 percent of California’s population, and years of demonization at the hands of Republicans have compelled millions of them to register and vote. Democrats enjoy a 52-27 majority in the Assembly, and a 21-17 majority in the Senate. From United States Senator to Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General, every single major statewide office is occupied by a Democrat. Meanwhile, the latest presidential polling has Obama up on Romney among Latinos by a staggering 57-15 percent.

It goes without saying that it's very worrisome when one of the political parties in a country with a two-party political system is unable to attract the support of large, growing, and increasingly visible proportions of the country's population.