Harper clueless to challenges of age

Standing on the doorstep of 2013, I am sadly aware that the phrase “another year older” has sobering implications

Standing on the doorstep of 2013, I am sadly aware that the phrase “another year older” has sobering implications — especially on one such as I, a charter member of the ubiquitous aging demographic. And, looking back on 2012, I find that issues of aging barely rated a mention when the younger media pundits were crafting their year-in-review pieces.

As I look back before looking forward, I can’t shake off my disbelief over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to progressively increase the age of eligibility for the OAS pension and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) from 65 to 67.

It sent a pretty clear message to the early onset seniors amongst us that this government has no understanding of the challenges seniors face.

The theory is that pushing the retirement age to 67 will keep seniors working longer and thus reduce the “dependency ratio” between idle snowbirds and the dwindling ranks of benefit-paying worker bees.

To get a sense of what the retirement landscape will look like when all this starts kicking in it helps to get a sense of where we’re at today. OAS and GIS provide one third of the income of all sen­iors over 65, and one half of the incomes of seniors with incomes less than $20,000.

One in four seniors 65 to 70 is still working, more than double what it was in 2000, and a quarter of them can only find part-time work. Twenty per cent of workers over 65 earn less than $5,000 a year.

A Statistics Canada survey of 55-plus workers found that only one third had retired because they were financially ready.

Based on this reality, respected Canadian Labour Congress economist Angella MacEwan predicts that “delaying the age of eligibility for OAS and GIS will result in significantly re­duced incomes for those who are unable to replace OAS/GIS income from earnings in low wage jobs.”

She says it will take considerable hours in low-wage jobs to replace the maximum OAS/GIS benefit of about $14,000 per year or even to replace the basic OAS benefit of just over $5,000 per year.

“Forcing lower paid work­ers to work from age 65 to 67 by depriving them of access to the OAS and the GIS would mean that an important subgroup of seniors would likely experience very sig­nificant reductions in income compared to the status quo.

To some degree, it would also force older workers to compete with younger workers for entry-level, part-time jobs,” she says.

The reality today is that most baby boomers don’t want to sacrifice their current lifestyle to enter retirement and many will stay in debt to accomplish this. Almost 60 per cent of pre-seniors 50 to 59 would rather work longer to live better in retirement, versus just 25 per cent who are prepared to live more modestly in order to retire early.

This is reality. For many it is a hard one. And, it will be harder still in the years to come for the many thousands of seniors who have not been fortunate enough to financially inoculate themselves against Harper’s retirement scheme.

In the year to come it would be reassuring if our elected representatives returned to this issue and demanded another round of informed debate.

Sadly, you will rarely find the word “informed” in a sentence that also includes the words “Harper government.” M

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