The declining numbers of little trick or treaters dressed in adorable (or inappropriate) costumes in Prince George has been attributed to a new overprotective generation of parents sheltering their children, a new lazy generation of children unwilling to go out and earn their pillowcase full of candy, and special Halloween events at churches, shopping malls, libraries and swimming pools.
All three of those factors may play a role but there is actually a much simpler reason why it's guaranteed that residents, regardless of where they live and their proximity to the nearest elementary school, will have to answer the doorbell less often tonight than in years gone by.
There are thousands of fewer kids in Prince George than there used to be.
In the 2000-2001 school year, School District 57 had a student population of 18,147. The number of kids this year, according to stats released earlier this month, is 12, 920. School district trustees have been the last decade making agonizing decisions worthy of Solomon about which schools to close and which schools to save. Neighbourhoods have been transformed in the process and that transformation continues on a broader scale across Prince George.
More and more of the people waiting at the door to hand out candy to the kids that will turn up tonight don't even have kids at home themselves, never mind children young enough to go trick or treating. In 1980, the largest demographic in Prince George was 25 to 29 year olds. According to the 2011 census, the most common local age group is 50 to 54 years old, with 45 to 49 year olds right behind.
This is good news in the short term but bad news in the long term. First, the good news. An aging population is normally more affluent and has more discretionary income. They're less likely to commit crimes (Prince George being named as one of the worst cities per capita for crime in Canada has more to do with the local crime rate not falling as fast as it has elsewhere than it does with crime running rampant in the area). They're more likely to own homes and hold down good jobs.
And now the much bigger and badder news.
If something doesn't change quickly, the closure of one local high school is inevitable. While there were 6,090 Prince George residents in the 15 to 19 years old block in 2011, there were just 5,195 kids aged 10 to 14 years old coming up behind them. That's 900 fewer kids or one high school. And what happens at CNC and UNBC, both already seeing flat enrolment?
Employers are already feeling it, particularly for entry-level and service sector jobs, as fewer young people means it's harder to attract and keep good workers. Meanwhile, in the booming resource development sector and even in forestry, finding good, young qualified workers is already a major issue, with job postings going unfilled. Wait another 10 years, as retirement parties become weekly events at most major private and public employers, for the labour squeeze in Prince George and region to become even more tight.
That's all fine to have $70 billion worth of development projects planned for central and northern B.C. over the next decade but if all of it comes to fruition, it will occur at the same time as a large segment of the current workforce considers the merits of early retirement. Currently, there aren't enough workers coming up to replace the ones who will be retiring, never mind to take the new jobs created in a growing economy.
Fewer kids coming to the door at Halloween may be less of a hassle and save everyone a few bucks to buy less candy but it's going to cost Prince George and region big time over the coming years.
Trick or treat.