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Adelaide lost in space as brain pool shrinks

By Malcolm King - posted Monday, 24 March 2014

Those of us over 50 may remember a "Lost in Space" TV episode ('The Promised Planet', 1968) where the Space Family Robinson landed on a planet populated entirely by young people. Will and Penny were whisked off to all night rave parties and dancing. They don't need old people man. Everything is groovy.

Adelaide is the polar opposite. It has the oldest population on mainland Australia and some of the worst unemployment and aged prejudice in the nation. It's a sea of pepper and salt haired folk sitting in shopping malls and eateries.

As Adelaide's economy crumbles, young people in ever increasing numbers are flocking east. In the last 30 years more than 150,000 people have left for Melbourne and Sydney. Every year about 4000 young people leave the state in search of work. Many are the cream of the crop: university educated, ambitious and a brim with new ideas.


At the recent state election, neither the ALP nor the Liberal Party debated how to tackle the sleeping elephant in the room – the state's crumbling economy. The political leaders simply picked the low hanging policy fruit instead.

I work at the intersection of demographics and higher education policy and I have seen how rampant unemployment, a dwindling working population and falling consumer confidence, can kill off a city. We are witnessing the rise of Asia and SA's 'old' manufacturing industries – through no fault of labour or management – are struggling to survive. This is a structural change and no amount of tax cuts will make a difference.

As South Australia's economy continues to contract, more young people will leave, vacant CBD office space will grow (currently 12.4 per cent) and more people will join the dole queues.

Apart from the government's projected $14 billion debt, SA's key performance indicators (ABS and Labour Force) are very worrying:

· In the final quarter of 2013, the local economy had shrunk by 1.0 per cent.

· SA's GDP is growing at 1.3 percent yet Australia is growing at 2.8 per cent.


· Unemployment rose over the last 12 months from 5.6 per cent to 6.7 per cent - twice the rate of increase across the nation. Youth unemployment in Gawler and Elizabeth is close to 20 per cent.

· Over 20 years SA's share of national employment fell from 8.3 per cent to 7.0 per cent and is trending down.

· Private investment has fallen from seven per cent in 1990 to five per cent in 2013.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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