Sometimes, writing a feature article is like going on an expedition in an unfamiliar country. You don't know what you'll find, but hopefully in the end, it will be something of value.
Last week, I was curious to learn the relationship between people's education and incomes. I felt this would interest young people and their parents, who must decide whether to make huge investments in postsecondary education.
Fortunately, I stumbled across the Canadian Labour Market and Skills Researcher Network, which provided a wealth of information on this topic.
The project director, UBC economist Craig Riddell, has spent a great deal of time investigating the potential payoffs of a postsecondary education.
His research provided the anchor for my article.
If anyone is wondering, there is substantial evidence showing that on average, people with more postsecondary schooling earn significantly higher incomes.
But Riddell also revealed that the federal government's decision to eliminate the long-form census will make it much more difficult to do this type of research in the future.
"The 2011 census won't be comparable to earlier censuses, so you won't be able to say, 'Well, have things improved compared to the past?' That's because the data won't be comparable," he told me.
The data from this year's census will also be "vastly inferior", according to Riddell. And this will have an impact on Canadian researchers' interest in studying Canadian labour markets.
This might be most apparent with younger academics in the early stages of their careers.
"There is a lot of pressure in academia to publish in the very best journals," Riddell explained. "The very best journals tend to be, on average, American journals. They're not as interested in Canadian work as they are in their own country."
That doesn't preclude publishing Canadian research, but Riddell said that the "bar is higher" to be accepted by these journals.
"Anything that makes the quality of Canadian data poorer will lead academics—especially young academics, who are trying to establish a career, get tenure, and so on—to look elsewhere," he claimed. "The census is definitely one thing that will make that more likely."
The unfortunate irony is that the politician who eliminated the long-form census, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, describes himself as an economist. I wonder if he cares about the impact that his decision is having on junior researchers in this field of study.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.