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Analysis of coronavirus impact on Australia’s population reveals a spike in regional migration

There has been a spike in migration from Australia’s capital cities to the regions during the COVID-19 pandemic and the national population by 2031 is expected to contain 1.1 million fewer people because of the virus, according to new research. 

In its first population statement on Friday, the government’s Centre for Population showed capital cities had a net loss of 10,500 people to regional areas in the quarter to June 2020 – the largest net quarterly move on record and more than double the average observed over the last decade.

The research – developed in consultation with states and territories, local governments, expert working groups and academics – highlights the effects of the pandemic on Australia’s population growth and distribution.

“Population growth in regional Australia will be less affected than in our capital cities and we are already seeing early evidence that more people are choosing to call regional Australia home, disrupting long-term trends,” Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge said.

The statement also shows the national population is expected to reach 28 million in 2028-29 – three years later than would have been reached in the absence of the pandemic – and growth in 2020-21 will be the slowest since World War I. 

Negative net migration has been forecast for the first time in 75 years this year and next, and population growth is not expected to return to the previously expected levels until 2027-28. 

With strong interstate migration expected into Queensland, the impact of the pandemic and its migration restrictions are projected to have the smallest effect on the Sunshine State compared to Australia’s other jurisdictions.

South Australia’s population growth will be zero this year, but is projected to recover in subsequent years.

Melbourne is forecast to overtake Sydney as Australia’s largest capital city in 2026-27, the statement shows.

“Whilst Sydney and Melbourne will have the sharpest fall in population growth in the short term due to the slowing of overseas migration, population growth will pick up again,” Mr Tudge said.

The pandemic will also be partially responsible for the faster ageing of the national population, as a result of Australians having fewer children and with a reduction in young migrants in the short term due to international border restrictions.

The statement shows the median age in Australia is now projected to be 40 in 2031, compared to the pre-pandemic estimate of 39. 

The slower population growth and faster ageing will directly impact Australia’s economic growth, Mr Tudge said.

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