I have been perplexed and caught off guard by what I have been reading about retirement in Canada lately. Two conundrums have been puzzling me. The Luxembourg Income Study Database claims the Canadian middle class is the richest along with Britain, and richer than our American counterparts! Great news. But, meanwhile, the elderly poverty rate has been rising since the mid 1990’s and then there are the bankruptcy rates for the over 65 crowd to consider!
If that does not twist your head around, try this one. Canada still does not have any health policy at the federal or provincial levels to deal with an aging population. Heads are apparently buried solidly in the sand of denial. How can we not be addressing our aging population in terms of health care? Baby Boomers may be healthier than the previous generation but subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous health fortune like anyone else. And there are so many!
The rich get richer but the poor get poorer
The New York Times announced in April that the Canadian middle class was now richer than our American counterpart in after tax dollars. After 2008, our real estate prices held up, we have larger and stronger labour unions, and lower prescription and medical costs. According to that Luxembourg study, middle income Brits and Canadians are tied for median income growth since 2000 at 19.7 per cent while Americans have been stagnant at 0.3 per cent. I guess the rich are much richer, but, unfortunately, the poor are also poorer.
At the same time, the Conference Board of Canada did a study that points out that income inequality in Canada has increased over the last 20 years with the richest gaining share and the poor and middle income losing share.
Perhaps the hollowing out of the American middle class has been more aggressive but it appears to be happening here as well. In addition, The Vanier Institute for the Family’s report on family finances tell us that the insolvency and bankruptcy rates for the 65 and over group is the highest in the country. These are people who, for the most part, would have declared themselves members of the middle class.
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada says that the number of Canadians working past 65 has doubled over the last 7 years, and that this growth is expected to continue. Much of this growth is fueled by perceived financial necessity. This may have much to do with our debt levels of $1.64 for every $1.00 earned. “I owe, I owe. It’s off to work we go!” It was the best of times; it was the worst of times it appears.
No health policy
Here is another puzzle to confound the mind. About two thirds of Canadians cite health as their biggest concern as they age but only about 22 per cent have planned or saved for a medical issue. A federal election is on the horizon but discussion or policy suggestions for health care for the coming increase in the aging population is not. Not yet, anyway. The Canada Health Act is federal legislation which deals with transfer payments to the provinces who then organize and deliver care. Those transfer payments are not increasing.
By 2050, 31 per cent of our population will be over the age of 60 and yet there are no incentives for internal medicine students to choose to be geriatricians. We have about 250 geriatricians in Canada presently and we need many more. As well, the number of dementia patients is expected to double by 2031 to 1.4 million putting great pressure on families and facilities and yet we have no plan. Bill C-356, a bill to address some of the realities of dementia care, was proposed in 2011 and reached second reading in December of 2014. We’ll see how that goes.
Canada signed a UN document committing us “to help ensure that people everywhere can age with security and dignity, and continue to participate in the societies as citizens with full rights.” In order to do this, we need to keep a close eye on seniors and poverty and quality of health care.
There is much to be done yet. Any suggestions?