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New Brunswick needs to be concerned about a recent trend of outmigration, according to David Campbell, a Moncton-based economic development consultant. (CBC)

New Brunswick’s sluggish economic situation may fuel a continued outmigration of citizens looking for work in other provinces, according to a Moncton consultant.

The concern over the province’s population comes as Statistic Canada reported New Brunswick witnessed its largest fourth quarter drop since 1971.

The province’s population was down by 648 people at the end of 2012, bringing the total population down to 754,698, according to the national agency.

Sixty more people died than were born in New Brunswick and the province lost 701 people to other provinces, such as Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

David Campbell, an economic consultant in Moncton, said the population snapshot could change quickly.

But the consultant said the more worrisome element of the report is the trend developing of more people leaving New Brunswick for work in other parts of the country.

"Now that the rest of the country is coming out of the recession in a big way it looks like some of that outmigration from New Brunswick might pick up again.

While the rest of the country was struggling with the economic downturn, many people opted to stay in New Brunswick.

The economic turnaround experienced by other provinces could spur on an exodus of people, the consultant said.

"The worry of course is now that the economy in Alberta and Saskatchewan and places like that is strengthening again and in Newfoundland and Labrador, we will see the kind of outmigration that we saw back in the mid-2000s and even really for the better part of the last 20 years," Campbell said.

Unemployment rate remains high

New Brunswick's unemployment rate has held stubbornly over 10 per cent since last July. The unemployment rate dipped to 10.1 per cent in February, but Statistics Canada has pointed to other concerning trends.

New Brunswick still has fewer jobs in 2012 than it did when the economic downturn started in 2009, according to Statistics Canada.

There were 353,300 people employed in February 2013 compared to 368,200 people in January 2009.

Campbell said the population report serves as a double blow to the province. The province's population is dropping and those left in New Brunswick are getting older, he said are both symptoms of a tough economy.

Statistic Canada also reported the number of immigrants coming to New Brunswick is also down by hundreds of people.

Campbell said many of those who have already settled in the province may also be among those leaving to find jobs in other provinces.

"When you see a big uptick in outmigration there is always the potential again that it could be these immigrants, a number of them deciding that aren't going to make a go of it in New Brunswick," Campbell said.

When the 2011 census was released, New Brunswick received a glimmer of good news.

The province’s population grew to 751,171 in 2011 compared to 729,997 in 2006, an increase of 2.9 per cent.