THE NSW Northern Rivers has been characterised as a low-wage retirement region in a national report into the performance of regional Australia released this week.
The Australian Local Government Association's State of the Regions report has revealed a widening gap between regions that have benefited from the mining boom and those that have not.
The Northern Rivers and Mid North Coast regions both largely missed out on benefits from mining income.
"The regions with the lowest wage incomes per resident were all retirement regions along the east coast: NSW South Coast, NSW Mid North Coast, NSW Northern Rivers and Qld Wide Bay Burnett. Thanks to retirement migration all of these regions had experienced low rates of growth in wage incomes per resident for the previous two decades," the report said.
Instead it said retirees in the region derived more income from superannuation than previous generations of retirees, putting their level of income from property at similar levels to metropolitan regions.
The trend towards retiree migration has curtailed since the Global Financial Crisis and was reflected in a decline in housing construction in the region.
"This region's economic base relies on a mixture of retirement relocation and agriculture. Development has occurred along the coast and the region's economic diversity is being influenced by the Gold Coast as its influence spreads south. Aged care, hospitality and tourism, construction and agriculture provide employment," the report said.
Another developing trend is in new media using the internet for creative work.
"There are now some 3500 creative, new media workers in the region who rely heavily on the internet for their networks and business opportunities," the report said.
"This sector has grown rapidly because of the life
style opportunities the region provides for this group of knowledge workers and it is likely providing employment to the cohort of 15- to 24-year-olds in the region."
The report's authors argue the trend of regional disparity will continue unless there is a concerted injection of infrastructure investment to underpin increased national productivity and, by supporting business investment, generate export income
National Economics' Dr Ian Manning said as the mining boom slowed the "knowledge economy" was slowly re-emerging and would play an increasingly important role.
"Infrastructure investment will not only need to be about major projects like highways and airports, but investment in telecommunications and the built environment and associated activities that support the growth and development of the knowledge economy," he said.
"... this means investment in a range of infrastructure, from roads, airports, to education and telecommunications."
Australian Local Government Association president Dr Felicity-ann Lewis said all regions need to be smart about creating opportunities for their youth.
"The report argues that the idea of relocating young people to regions where work is available needs to be re-thought as there are already many young people unemployed in these regions," she said.
High-income economies, apart from those with a unique and extensive natural resource base, now depend on sustained innovation as the core driver of long-term economic growth.
Retirees are leaving high-income, high-cost, low-unemployment regions and migrating to low-income, low-cost, high-unemployment regions.
Low-productivity regions are aging rapidly while high-productivity regions are aging relatively slowly.
Rise in part time work
ON a positive note, the rate of unemployment in the 15- to 24-year bracket has dropped considerably since a 1999 high of 27% to 10.4% in 2014, according to the State of the Regions report.
Much of this can be attributed to a rise in part-time work, which has shifted from 37.5% in 1999 to 50.4% this year.
Eighteen-year-old Georgia Hackett is one those workers and has been employed part-time at Toast cafe, run by her parents, since she was 14 and is preparing to move to Brisbane, where she hopes to get a job in hospitality.
She said a lot of her friends from Grafton had to return home after moving because they didn't have the job skills to find employment in bigger cities.
"I've so many friends that are struggling to get work and some have had to move back home because they really haven't had the opportunity to gain fundamental skills," she said. "It's really important to get those skills while you're still young on top of job-specific skills.
"We (at Toast) like to train people young because people are a lot more malleable and take on a lot more information. It's when you really gain those fundamental skills," she said.