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The Roundup: How migrants’ remittances provide a crucial lifeline

Canadian flags are waved during a citizenship ceremony.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Economists in this country have been talking a lot lately about the importance of immigration policy as an economic engine for Canada. The World Bank reminds us that it's also a critical economic engine for many of the countries from which Canada gets its immigrants.

In a blog post this week, World Bank economist Nikola Spatafora noted that remittances – the money that migrant workers send home to family in their their country of origin – totalled more than $410-billion (U.S.) in developing countries last year. That's more than triple the official development-assistance funds sent to those countries.

"For many economies, remittance inflows exceed 10 per cent of GDP," he said. He added that during the 2008-09 financial crisis, remittances proved a less-volatile source of finance in the developing world than bank loans and portfolio investments, providing some welcome stability.

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A recent International Monetary Fund research paper, co-authored by Mr. Spatafora, dug deeper into the remittance phenomenon using some detailed data tracked by the Bank of Italy. The study found that remittances act as a "macroeconomic stabilizer" in countries receiving the funds, as they typically rise when the receiving country's economy is in recession – even if the country from which the funds are coming is also in recession.

He noted that remittances flow the most out of developed countries with the lowest-cost banking systems. The conclusion? Developed countries can help Third World finance by reducing barriers to financial services for new immigrants, and reducing costs for international money transfers. As he noted, this is consistent with a G20 pledge from 2011 to reduce the average cost of remittance transfers by 5 to 10 per cent by this year – which the G20 Cannes Summit declaration suggested would foster a $15-billion-a-year increase in remittances.

Canada's east-west aging divide

When it comes to concern about an aging population and the implications for economic growth, the issue is more urgent for some Canadian cities than for others. Much like the economy in general, this demographic issue has some pretty glaring regional divides.

Statistics Canada on Wednesday released its 2013 population estimates by metropolitan area, which included a chart showing Canadian cities' breakdown of population by age group (0-14, 15-64, 65-plus). It illustrates that many of the country's youngest cities, in terms of population, are in the West – where economic growth has also, in general, been strongest in recent years. Calgary, for example, has the smallest proportion of 65-and-over citizens (9.9 per cent) of any metropolitan area in the country, while its proportion of 14-and-under citizens (17.7 per cent) is among the country's highest. That leaves Calgary with the country's biggest proportion of working-age population (72.4 per cent).

The other end of the spectrum is dominated by smaller cities in the Canada's industrial and manufacturing mid-section of Ontario and Quebec. Peterborough, Ont., and Trois-Rivières, Que., are tied for the country's highest proportion of seniors (20.3 per cent), outpacing even the British Columbia retirement havens of Victoria (19 per cent) and Kelowna (19.8 per cent). The St. Catharines-Niagara region in Southern Ontario (20 per cent seniors) has the dubious distinction of being the city with Canada's smallest proportion of working-age population, at 65.5 per cent.

It's notable that four of the five cities with the smallest senior populations (Calgary, Regina, Edmonton and Saskatoon) are expected to post the strongest economic growth in 2014, with rates well above 3 per cent, according to a new report from the Conference Board of Canada. Meanwhile, Trois-Rivières's growth in 2014 is forecast at a thin 0.5 per cent, while St. Catharines-Niagara is pegged at 1.9 per cent.

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Twitter's hottest commodity: Swearing

It's pretty hard to assign a value to a commodity such as swearing. But apparently people spend their bad-language currency considerably more freely on Twitter than in their non-Twitter lives.

British newspaper The Guardian reported on its website that one in every 13 tweets contains swearing, and 1.15 per cent of all words contained in tweets are swear words. The findings come from a study by researchers at Wright State University in Ohio, who note that the rate of swearing on Twitter is approximately double that of non-Twitter daily life.

While using four-letter words may be an efficient way of conserving Twitter's precious per-tweet limit of 140 characters, the use of them probably has more to do with generating Twitter cred and popularity. Time magazine's website, quoting the same research, noted that tweets containing swears are more likely to be retweeted.

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