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From Aging to Aged

Is it time for more seniors to challenge the status quo and work for intergenerational justice?

When the results of Census 2021 were released, headlines labelled Canada an aged society. The previous census described Canada as an aging society. Is the shift from aging to aged significant?

Census 2021 highlighted a dramatic growth in the population over 85 years (a 12 percent growth since 2016) as well as the reality that the number of seniors over 65 is now growing 6 times faster than the number of children aged 0-14. There is a 16 percent increase in the number of people over 100 years old. The census predicts that the over 85 age group will triple over the next 25 years.

These population shifts carry significant implications. “Aging” leads to a discussion about retirement age. “Aged” quickly shifts to discussions about the costs of caring for the elderly. In the back pages of the recent 2022 Federal Budget, a table shows an additional $85 billion in retirement benefits over the next five years, flagging higher health care costs and the costs of much needed improvements in nursing homes and home care.

Looking for a solution

One suggestion for approaching these costs is to reduce spending on child care and education. I would argue an aged society needs to invest more in its children, not less. Developing the full potential of every child is now an economic necessity, as well as the ideal of child rights advocates. Too many children in Canada do not get a good start in life, yet Canada’s future depends on their capabilities.

Immigration is often cited as a solution. Immigration does strengthen the millennial age group, but most commentators agree that it cannot solve the “aged” challenge.

Raising eligibility for the Canada Pension Plan from 65 to 67, another proposed solution, was dropped a few years ago because it would leave some seniors in poverty.

Don’t touch Grandma’s benefits

Part of the solution needs to be a major restructuring of seniors benefits, which is seen as political suicide. “You can’t touch Grandma’s benefits” is the advice given to every elected leader. I’m one grandma who disagrees, in the name of intergenerational fairness. The common myth is that seniors have worked hard and deserve a comfortable retirement. It is also true that my generation made a mess of creation that our children need to clean up. Yes, some seniors pay taxes and support their adult children, which transfers wealth to the next generation. It also passes on the widening gap between privileged and poor. In the Bible, a Jubilee every 50 years leveled the playing field and ensured everyone shared in the land-based economic system of that time.

Which benefits should be universal, for all seniors, and which should be income-tested, based on need? That is one critical question. Do all seniors over 65 need discounts? Another example: I think the recent $500 covid benefit for seniors over 75 should have been allocated to those in need. Covid cost some seniors a lot, but some were relatively sheltered or even saved money.

On a deeper level, the use of age as a proxy for capability becomes problematic as some seniors are very capable while others need higher levels of support. At the other end, age 15 as a proxy for working age and age 18 as adulthood are also problematic. Jesus followers cared for “widows” and “orphans” because they had no place or power in that society, not because they were over 65 or under 18. Perhaps it is time for more seniors to challenge the status quo and work for intergenerational justice. As a Generation Squeeze slogan puts it: “Do unto each generation as you would have done onto you.”

Author

  • Kathy Vandergrift

    Kathy Vandergrift, a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.

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