Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Out-Migration from Russian North Increasingly Hurting Economy There

Paul Goble

Baku, May 13 – The departure of workers and their families from northern regions of the Russian Federation like Murmansk oblast is not only reducing the number of people available for employment there but also cutting the number of people in prime child-bearing age groups, trends that are slowing economic activity there.
And while there has been a slight decline in the number of people leaving over the last several years – most who wanted and could leave have already done so – and a slight uptick in childbirths given the larger pool of women born circa 1990, demographers say this is only “the calm before the storm” of further declines (
In an article on this week entitled “We are Losing an Entire Murmansk,” Elena Malyshkina says that the population of Murmansk oblast fell by 340,000 over the last 18 years, approximately 30 percent of its peak figure of 1,191,500 in 1990. The “lion’s share” of this decline – “from 70 to 90 percent in various years – consisted of those who left the region.
That outmigration is equivalent, she notes, to the entire population of the city of Murmansk.
Over the last several years, the decline in the population has slowed compared to the 1990s, but that trend may not last. Indeed, there are some reasons to think it could even be reversed: “In 2008, losses from migration increased 48.5 percent in comparison to losses in 2007.”
Officials in the region have been pleased by the recent increase in the number of births there, and some of them predict that if that trend continues, then soon, the number of births each year will be equal to the number of deaths, a situation in which the population losses Murmansk has suffered on that account “could become equal to zero.”
But Malyshkina says, “most likely, this is simply the calm before the storm” because specialists are predicting that in the immediate future there will be an essential reduction in the number of births as the number of women entering prime child-bearing ages will fall across the country.
The numbers of potential new mothers in the Russian north are likely to decline even more precipitously, because they are members of an age group that is the most likely to leave. And consequently, the percentage decline in the population in Murmansk and neighboring regions is likely to be far higher than elsewhere.
According to the projections of Russian demographers, the journalist reports, by 2026, the population of Murmansk oblast will fall from its current 842,000 to 688,000, of which outmigration will account for 131,000 of the 154,000 overall decline. And those figures may prove to be overly optimistic.
Malyshkina suggests that “the first indications” of this new decline have appeared already this year: In January-February 2009, compared to the first two months of 2008, the natural decline [deaths over births] increased by three percent, [while] the migration loss rose by 29 percent.”
The continuing departure of workers, she says, “could become for the economy of the oblast a powerful brake,” possibly bringing many enterprises to a complete halt because most of their workers there know that they can make as much or more elsewhere and not have to suffer the climatic and other problems of the north.
If the situation is to be improved, she says, there must be a sharp increase in the pay and benefits for people working there, the introduction of significant number of Gastarbeiters from Central Asia and the Caucasus, and/or a change in the way the firms and companies there do business, including the possibility of shifting to more innovative forms of development.
But as “Novaya gazeta” pointed out this week, United Nations studies show that “it is significantly easier to die in Russia than to be born,” in large measure because “there is no state policy not only to preserve the nation but even to prevent its degeneration” (

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