Seniors and the generation spending gap

Why are we doing so much to try to help seniors when they’re already the wealthiest generation in history?



At age 89, Larry South would have been forgiven if he had chosen to retire on a sunny beach in Florida. Instead, the former MPP from Kingston, Ont., recently embarked on a political battle to overhaul the municipal property tax system. South had been growing increasingly concerned that elderly homeowners on fixed incomes were struggling to cope with rising property taxes because of the soaring value of their homes, while at the same time he fretted that young workers, with their stagnant wages, were being shut out of the housing market. And so South proposed replacing property taxes with a tax equal to 4.5 per cent of a homeowner’s yearly household income. Doing so would make it easier for young workers to afford the cost of owning a home, while struggling seniors, he believed, would be the biggest beneficiaries.

But in his quest to change the tax system, he has come across an unlikely foe—his elderly friends. Like South, a former engineer who estimates he earns a retirement income that’s 30 to 40 per cent above the $86,000 household average in Kingston, many of his friends also pull in six-figure retirement incomes. Thanks to their high earnings, many would end up paying more in taxes under South’s plan than they do under the existing property tax system. Some, he says, resent the idea of paying more in tax than their younger, lower-income neighbours. “There’s not many that would have an income much less than $100,000, so their taxes will go up,” he says. “But they shouldn’t expect to be subsidized by the poor.”

South’s struggle to reform the property tax system, and the resistance he’s found among his affluent elderly friends, underscores what has been a remarkable shift in the nature of wealth in Canada. Seniors have long been considered society’s most vulnerable citizens, fragile pensioners on fixed incomes in need of a financial helping hand from both government and agile younger workers. That was true decades ago, but not anymore. Thanks to stock market booms, economic growth, a soaring real estate market and a major expansion in both private and government pension plans, today’s seniors are arguably the wealthiest generation in history. The changing fortunes of the elderly have been both swift and profound. In the 1970s, nearly 40 per cent of Canadian seniors lived in poverty. Today it’s five per cent, half the poverty rate of the working-age population and one-third the rate of poverty among children.

Seniors have seen their wealth quadruple since 1984, according to a Bank of Montreal study released last month, far outpacing the growth of wealth among younger Canadians. The stunning transformation of the balance sheets of the elderly is thanks to a combination of financial discipline, public policy and good timing. Many of today’s seniors were the babies born in the aftermath of the Great Depression who learned to abhor debt and save aggressively. (The average Canadian senior has a debt load equal to just five per cent of their total wealth, compared to a 99 per cent debt-to-wealth ratio for their Boomer children.) At the same time as they were socking away their hard-earned money, seniors got a major boost from the introduction of public benefits like Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and taxpayer-funded health care, which has helped push the poverty rate among elderly Canadians to one of the lowest in the Western world. Many benefited from decades of economic growth while being spared the brunt of the 2008 meltdown because they had already shifted their savings into low-risk investments when they retired, says Goshka Folda, senior managing director of research firm Investor Economics. During the depth of the recession in 2009, 86 per cent of retirees told Statistics Canada researchers that they weren’t financially stressed and were living better in retirement than they had expected.

Not everyone is benefiting from these changes, however. The fortunes of younger Canadians haven’t improved nearly as much as they have for the elderly. In the 1980s, the typical senior was four times wealthier than the average 20-something. Today’s seniors are now on average nine times richer than their Millennial grandchildren. In fact, many of the trends and policies that have worked in favour of seniors have come at the expense of younger generations. That’s led some to warn of a coming generational war if public focus and resources aren’t shifted away from seniors to younger workers who are struggling far more than their parents ever did.


“This seems to be the golden age of seniors,” says Roger Gibbins, who retired as the head of the Canada West Foundation think tank in 2012. “Not in the advertising sense like life begins at 55, but in the sense of economic circumstances that have come together that make it a pretty good time to be old in Canada.”

Forget fears about a retirement crisis in Canada—the one where cash-strapped seniors will outlive their savings and suck the government coffers dry. Seniors may eventually become the only thing that drives the economy. Canadians age 75 and older make up less than seven per cent of the population, but control more than a third of all financial assets in the country­­—roughly $1 trillion worth of stocks, bonds, mutual funds and cash, says Folda. That figure doesn’t even include the money locked inside their homes, which have more than quadrupled in value since the 1980s. Far from running out of money, many seniors actually continue to save well into their golden years. Malcolm Hamilton, one of Canada’s foremost experts on retirement, has estimated that senior couples save or give away an average of 18 per cent of their incomes—rising to 30 per cent for the wealthiest families. That certainly makes them generous, but does it mean they should continue to get seniors-only discounts or qualify for government benefits like CPP and OAS?

The dramatic change in the fortunes of seniors, from the impoverished pensioners of yesterday to today’s wealthy retirees, is among the greatest policy success stories in Canadian history. Yet there’s a dark side to the success, one that threatens to spark an ugly generational crisis, in large part because governments continue to focus so much of their resources on supporting the plight of economically fragile seniors at the expense of their far more fragile children and grandchildren. “We are mistaking physical frailty for financial frailty,” says Fred Vettese, chief actuary of Morneau Shepell and co-author of The Real Retirement. He estimates that fewer than 10 per cent of seniors actually fit the description of pensioners living on fixed incomes anymore.

Seniors’ incomes have jumped 40 per cent since 1984, says the Bank of Montreal, compared to 21 per cent for Baby Boomers and just three per cent for younger Canadians. Today, the average Canadian man aged 65-plus earns $45,817 a year compared to $42,160 for men aged 25 to 34. More than 40 per cent of Canadian millionaires are 65 and older. The median net worth of seniors has similarly jumped 70 per cent since 1999, but hardly risen at all for those younger than 35. Meanwhile, those under-35s have seen their debt rise almost as quickly as their grandparents’ wealth. Retirement savings accounts have shown the same troubling divergence. Since 1999, the proportion of seniors who have RSPs has grown 30 per cent, while it has fallen five per cent among younger Canadians.

Despite their affluence, seniors remain disproportionately the beneficiaries of government subsidies and tax breaks. German think tank Bertelsmann Foundation has called Canada among the “least intergenerationally just” countries in the world, with a troubling large gap between the poverty rates of seniors and children and a strong “elderly bias” among government programs and tax systems. It found we spend nearly four times as much on support for seniors as we do on children and have roughly $250,000 worth of government debt for every child, an indication that future generations will be paying for the excesses of previous ones.

From seniors-only tax breaks to free transit passes, Canadian governments now spend a collective $45,000 a year per senior in Canada compared to $12,000 for those younger than 45, says Paul Kershaw, a professor at the University of British Columbia who founded Generation Squeeze, an organization that advocates for generational equity. Most of the difference comes from big-ticket items like health care, along with CPP and OAS. But governments also spend an average of $613 per senior on tax breaks for housing, compared to $354 for similar housing tax breaks for younger Canadians, and offer seniors another $1,123 in age-related income tax credits. The federal government is increasing its spending on seniors at a rate of $12 billion a year, Kershaw says, while adding very little new spending for younger Canadians.

“We developed a sort of mythology of seniors as being very dependent or very vulnerable,” says Gibbins, 67. “I think to some degree that image of seniors living in unheated apartments eating cat food has been maintained almost as a way to protect a group of people who are actually doing very well these days.”

Many point to changes in the economy that are working to effectively shut out younger Canadians from the economic windfalls of their parents and grandparents. Increasingly, the retirement dreams of younger Canadians are resting on the foundation of an economy that is shifting toward low-wage service jobs—many of them for services catering to their affluent grandparents. “I go for my Starbucks every day and I can afford the price to keep that part of my lifestyle going,” says Gibbins. “But I need young people who are prepared to work at Starbucks for a pretty low income. It makes me feel a bit uncomfortable in this advantaged situation. I’m not sure it reflects my own hard work; it reflects the demography.”

Younger Canadians will inevitably be working longer than their parents and grandparents, given the age to qualify for CPP and OAS is rising from 65 to 67. Folda points out that more than 40 per cent of existing private sector defined pension plans, which have guaranteed a secure retirement for thousands of today’s retirees, are now largely closed off to new employees. Vettese thinks the longer working life won’t be an undue hardship for future generations since they’ll be living longer. But it will reverse a long-standing trend that has seen the median retirement age in Canada actually fall by two years since the 1970s. The idea of having to delay retirement is still likely to come as a surprise to young Canadians, a third of whom told researchers from the Bank of Montreal that they plan to retire before the age of 60.

At the same time, the end of mandatory retirement means more and more seniors are working long into their golden years. The employment rate for seniors has more than doubled since 1988, from 6.7 per cent to 13.2 per cent. That’s fine for those who need the extra income, but there is evidence that many seniors aren’t working because they need the money. While the share of seniors in the workforce has gone up, the share of those working full-time has actually gone down over the past 25 years, suggesting that many seniors aren’t staying in their jobs longer, but are instead turning to part-time jobs in retirement. Last year, the Municipal Retirees Organization Ontario studied public servants who continued working in retirement despite earning government pensions. More than half said their main motivation was to get out of the house. Just 16 per cent said they worked because they needed cash. Anger over the growing legions of older workers has flared up in the United Kingdom, where youth advocates have called on the government to scrap its discounted transit passes for seniors, arguing that the country now spends nearly $130 million (71 pounds) to help seniors to commute to work for free while unemployed young workers have to pay the full fare. It’s only a matter of time before similar generational conflicts over the workplace emerge in Canada as young people fight with their grandparents for the same jobs.

When it comes to the tensions between young and old, however, there’s no greater battlefield than the housing market.

Incredibly, the age gap is growing even when it comes to housing. Despite low interest rates that have allowed legions of young Canadians to qualify for large mortgages, it’s seniors who have experienced one of the biggest increases in home ownership of any age group. In 1981, just 66 per cent of those over the age of 70 owned their homes. Today it’s 72 per cent. Meanwhile, over the same period, the home ownership rate has actually gone down slightly among Canadians in their 30s and 40s. “Housing has kind of created this generational tipping point for an inequality in wealth that is playing out,” says Kershaw.

Like many his age, Martin Petter sees his children graduating from university into a vastly different world than he experienced in his youth. Armed with a Ph.D. from Oxford University in the 1970s, Petter had little trouble finding an academic job at McGill University with a salary that easily allowed him to afford to buy a house and interest-free government student loans that cost $15 a month to repay. Now 71 and retired as vice-president of North Island College in B.C., he worries about the fact that his daughters, both educated and ambitious women in their 30s, have amassed large student debts in order to find jobs. His youngest has recently gone back to university to train as a physiotherapist, and Petter helps her pay her student loans.

“The thing that particularly concerned me was hearing them talk about being able to one day buy a house and their almost fatalistic feeling that this really wasn’t something their generation could hope for,” he says. “I felt, why shouldn’t it be reasonable to hope for?” Every generation of young people faces challenges starting out in the world, he says, “but I think the hurdles I faced were much more surmountable and much more dependent on one’s individual ability than the current generation. So many of the things they face are beyond their ability to change.”

The fact that many young people are now digging themselves deeply into debt to buy a home is also engineering a massive transfer of wealth from young buyers to older sellers. Last year, University of Toronto geography professor Alan Walks mapped out a detailed geography of household wealth and debt in Canada. Walks found that cities with a high proportion of seniors also had higher levels of household debt. But when he looked closer, he found that it wasn’t the seniors who were deep in debt, but their younger neighbours, some of whom had debts worth more than 300 per cent of their incomes.

Far from trading in their suburban houses for quiet retirement communities, Walks found wealthy seniors have instead been competing with younger homebuyers for homes in the same sought-after cities. That has helped push home prices sky-high, particularly in mild-weather cities in B.C. “Wealthy seniors have been able to externalize much of the costs related to their stimulation of local housing demand onto the entire metro housing market,” he wrote, which has helped foster what he called “a new dynamic of generational inequality” that has transferred the financial risks to younger buyers while shifting the wealth to older ones. “Efforts on behalf of policy makers to maintain high real estate values in this context thus work to enlarge generational disparities,” he wrote, “as seniors are then able to cash out at elevated values while new families have to take on unsustainable debts to become homeowners.”

Eric Swanson knows that phenomenon all too well. Recently, he and his wife made an offer on a small house in Victoria, a popular destination for Canadian retirees who have been flocking to Vancouver Island from oil-rich Alberta. “There are a lot of retirees also looking for small houses on small lots, so it’s making it a bit more difficult,” says Swanson, 31-year-old executive director of Generation Squeeze. Growing up, Swanson’s parents, both working professionals, seemed to have little trouble buying large houses close to downtown. It’s a different world today. “There’s a big part of us that feels we’re assuming a lot more risk than we may be able to handle down the road compared to the experiences of our parents,” he says.

Others argue that the fact that many seniors have amassed sizable real estate wealth is less important than it seems since it means that plenty of seniors have become millionaires on paper, but with no way to cash out their housing wealth. Retirees who sell their suburban homes are often moving to the city, where they’re paying equally high prices for urban houses and condos with high maintenance fees, says Folda. “What we’ve seen really in the past decade is that the strategy of downsizing from grand houses to condominiums actually released very little liquidity to finance retirement,” she says.

But the fact that some seniors have trouble cashing in their real estate windfalls pales in comparison to the issues facing young workers trying to afford their first home, says Gibbins. “I’d much rather be in the situation of trying to squeeze some financial gain out of a property than be somebody just starting out with a young family and trying to buy a house in Vancouver.”

When it comes to housing, governments may be exacerbating the tensions between young and old. Several provinces offer property tax credits and subsidies that are only available to seniors. Earlier this year, Alberta launched a program that allows seniors to defer their property taxes until they sell their home or die—when the back taxes can then be taken out of their estate.

Such preferential treatment isn’t limited to property taxes. Politicians of all stripes compete to promise new programs and tax breaks for seniors, while programs that would benefit younger Canadians, such as tuition and daycare subsidies, are considered too expensive for cash-strapped governments. Even programs that have proven uncontroversial when introduced for seniors can spark a political battle when governments try to expand them to younger Canadians. The Harper Conservatives introduced pension income splitting for seniors back in 2007, and heard no one object. But income splitting became a political nightmare when the government tried to expand it to families with children. Just as the proposal was seen to be supporting rich couples at the expense of poor single moms, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that income splitting for seniors has disproportionately benefited the wealthiest retirees—allowing them to qualify for an extra $250 million in Old Age Security payments next year.

It’s easy to blame seniors for stacking the deck in favour of their own generation. But in many ways, says Kershaw, it’s actually younger Canadians who are to blame for the lack of public support for their issues. Turnout among younger voters is notoriously low, so politicians naturally target their campaigns to the seniors who actually show up on election day. Many young Canadians also seem to support the idea of boosting spending on seniors—even at the expense of their own generation. Kershaw has polled Canadians, both young and old, asking them which age group should be the top priority for government. Not surprisingly, 70 per cent of seniors said politicians should focus on them. But he found that younger Canadians were just as likely to say governments should prioritize seniors as they were to say they should help their own generation. “Younger Canadians, like older Canadians, believe the stories about who is most vulnerable still in society,” says Kershaw. “These stories are increasingly outdated because they’re based on the big policy challenges of the past and a failure to recognize that the situation has really changed.”

However, institutions that have tried to shift spending away from older Canadians often face a fierce public outcry. The B.C. government sparked protests when it announced it was scrapping the seniors discount on its ferry service. Seniors complained bitterly earlier this summer when Mount Allison University in New Brunswick said it would start charging them to attend university alongside their tuition-paying grandchildren. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said he’s opposed to a plan by the city to scrap a discount that allows low-income seniors to pay $15 a year for public transit even though younger low-income residents pay $44 a month. “I can still not understand why someone living on $1,500 a month should be treated different if they’re 55 or 65,” Calgary alderman Jim Stevenson told council during the vote.

Kershaw’s answer to the growing generational tensions is to try to turn Generation Squeeze into an organization for young Canadians that can rival the powerful seniors’ lobby group Carp (formerly the Canadian Association of Retired Persons). One idea the organization is taking directly from Carp is a membership card that would offer discounts on products and services, sort of a seniors discount for the under-45 set. Unlike Carp’s membership card, which offers deals on things like home insurance, fitness plans and travel discounts, a Generation Squeeze membership could include discounts on youth-friendly services like car-sharing programs and “mixer mortgages” that allow friends and roommates to co-own a house. By boosting the market clout of younger Canada, the organization hopes to force governments and corporations alike to start catering to their needs.

But for there to be any meaningful change, governments will likely need to rethink the perks they give to their elderly voters and instead tailor their programs to those who really need the help, regardless of age. Gibbins thinks wealthy seniors may need to start covering more of the cost of their own health care to free up government resources for struggling younger workers. Despite the inevitable political blowback, governments may also need to start subjecting sacred seniors’ benefits like pension income-splitting or CPP and OAS to a “means test”—a sliding scale based on income. Today, a couple can earn a combined retirement income of $140,000 and still qualify for full Old Age Security. They can earn as much $230,000 before those benefits are clawed back entirely. In a study last year, the Fraser Institute proposed that lowering the clawback threshold for OAS benefits to $102,000 for a couple (or $51,000 per person) would free up $730 million in federal cash every year.

The idea of also clawing back CPP for high-income retirees might seem inherently unfair given that those seniors paid into the system when they were working. But it wouldn’t be the first time affluent Canadians have paid more in taxes than they’ve received in benefits in order to support the less wealthy. “If we can just change that focus of vulnerability from the old to the young, I think we would really have accomplished something important,” says Gibbins.

The battle over how cash-strapped governments should divvy up their limited resources between young and old is only likely to heat up as the biggest wave of Baby Boomers enters retirement over the next decade. But it’s a battle worth waging—unless we want today’s seniors to be the last generation of Canadians living in retirement bliss.

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Seniors and the generation spending gap

  1. Younger people today have no greater difficulties than today’s seniors had ,at similar stages of their lives. This article fails to mention mortgage interest rates of 19% in the late seventies and early eighties.Inflation of 14%
    Try that when you are trying to also put money away for retirement.
    Most seniors are not as wealthy as depicted in this story.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Lower interest rates have allowed the young to buy large homes and new cars that we could never afford when we were out of university five or ten years.

    • Interest rates were high, as was inflation overall. Salaries rose to compensate. The value of homes by and large rose at a rate that covered off the expense of the mortgage. And you earned a good, healthy return on the money you did manage to put away.

      I remember those days well. I was in my teens, and remember my parents grumbling about it. Yet in the midst of it, they managed to buy a larger home, and had a new car every couple of years.

      A tail-end Boomer, I have a better education than my parents did then (they have since gotten their own degrees, but not until they were middle-aged) and have worked hard, but have never been close to as well off as they were and are. Short of a lottery win, I never will be.

      I don’t begrudge them what they have, but I’d laugh at them if they ever talked about how bad things were, financially or employment-wise, compared to what my generation faced / faces. And I’m well aware that things have only gotten worse for the generations following us Boomers.

    • Many seniors had access to company pension plans which also helped build their nest eggs. Unfortunately, retirement packages are difficult to find these days.

    • Did today’s senior’s carry an average of $25000 student debt right out of the gate because their parents insisted they go to university, but never bothered saving for it?

    • Agreed. Many of the 75 plus group of which we are members are living in houses in places like Vancouver that have appreciated significantly in assessed value over the years and, accordingly, so have the property taxes. We need a place to live so a modest home which happens to be valued at a high price is not necessarily an income source. The beneficiaries of the value of the property will be our children. At that time they will become old rich and spoiled.

    • The post war economy was a huge benefit to those entering the labor market then. Compare that to now when at least in Ontario one of the stoniest sectors manufacturing has been weakened. And competition from low wage countries is intense. That something most seniors didn’t have to worry about.

    • Use any of the online calculators and they will show you that it’s better in the long run to pay a cheap or reasonable price for a house with high interest rate, then to pay a bubble price with a low interest rate.

  2. Great! Now as I approach retirement, after years of work, raising my family, and pinching pennies to save for retirement, an article like this. How do you justify going after seniors, who have limited ability to make adjustments once they are out of the work force? I especial loved the line on the chart for spending of $12,758 for medical care. Seniors are so blessed with the advantage of being in need of medical care as they age.

    • $1 trillion was spent by the government on the current and previous generations. The next generations will have to pay for this. Consider yourself lucky that you will receive medical care, paid for indirectly by children. The next generation may not have any money for medical care.

  3. A large part of the article is about the high cost of housing in some markets and the blame is placed squarely on the shoulders of the elderly. Friends of ours in North Vancouver tell us that their daughter, who grew up there, is very angry, was the word she used, because of the high home prices that do not allow her to live in the area where she grew up. But her daughter puts the blame squarely on immigrants, not on the elderly.

    And I do think that the article is terribly biased in blaming the elderly for woes facing the younger generation when a lot of the problem related to high housing costs and difficulties in getting jobs is our failed immigration system.

    • The housing bubble was created by the government, not immigrants. Search for and read: “Housing, the most manipulated market in the world newworldparty”

      The government, controlled by older homeowners, caters mainly to the older people because a higher percentage of the older people vote.

      Globe and Mail explained that the housing bubble is a transfer of wealth from the young to the old.

  4. Go tour a retirement home…or a nursing home…anywhere in the country. Then tell me the elderly are all ‘rich’ and apparently ‘spoiled’.

    Whiny Millennials, who don’t want to put in the effort the seniors did….just take it.

    • Whiny Emily, who always talks about how well-off she is and demonstrates yet again how out of touch she is with the generations behind her.

      • LOL lazy ole Bram who wants everything given to him.

        Buck yourself up, kid.

        • Worked hard for everything I have Em. Don’t expect a free ride – for me OR for you. Seniors who are well off don’t need breaks – though a good many of them seem to expect it. And they like talking about how hard they had it and how better off the younger generations are – something which, as this article points out, is at odds with reality. Kinda like a certain ubiquitous commenter.

          • LOL if you’d ‘worked hard’ for everything you have….you’d actually have something.

            As it is, you haven’t even managed to surpass your parents!

            I saw poverty in the 50s, 60s, 70s….and yes, people today….and in society in general….are far better off than they were back then. They complain more though.

            Like you.

          • Ah, Emily – fast with the insults as always – and just as clueless as ever.

          • I’m not the one that’s poor, laddie.

          • Did I say I was poor? I said I’m not as well off as my parents. There’s a difference.

            Some of it is undoubtedly attributable to my chosen career – one where salaries in general are notoriously low. That was my own, deliberate choice – and one I’m fine with. I discovered early on that happiness and mental health is more important than wealth.

            But there are other factors as well:
            * My mother had a well-paying career of her own at a time when most families were single-income. Today you need two incomes to match the single-income standard of living of their generation.
            * They started working with no or minimal post-secondary education. My career was delayed by several years as I earned my degrees.
            * They came of age during the post-war boom. They found decent-paying jobs in a booming town. I came of age as the NL economy hit one of its low points; had several years of no employment, low employment, or jobs that didn’t pay well. Ultimately packed up and moved to ON.
            * They had years of high-interest growth on investments; some rough years, but not compared to mine. A major difference in markets between their early years of investing and mine.

            Different generations face different struggles. My parents hit an economic sweet spot, compared to their parents or to me. It happens. No complaining; just stating facts.

          • At around 50, you haven’t surpassed your parents. That’s poor.

            Bill Gates is 58.

          • “LOL if you’d ‘worked hard’ for everything you have….you’d actually have something.”

            “Not ‘hard work’….’smart work’.”

            Changing the goal posts is not actually winning the argument, Emily.

          • Well Pooky, there is mental work and there is physical work. Most people find physical work easier… try not to get silly about it.

            There is also hard smart work ya know.

        • Why do you presume that hard work makes you wealthy? If that were true, every Filipino live-in caregiver would be a millionaire…

          • Not ‘hard work’….’smart work’.

            Coal mining is hard work, but there aren’t any millionaire coal miners.

  5. I don’t know about Ontario and B.C., but here in New Brunswick in general, the senior rebates are only for “low-income seniors”: you only have access to them if you are a recipient of the OAS Supplement.

    And then there’s someone missing in your story: the rural seniors. For us, public transit discounts don’t exist; on the contrary, a car is absolutely essential and we all know how much that costs.

    And finally, around here property values have gone DOWN, not up, and my friends and neighbours are having to sell their homes for about $30,000 when it’s time to move to the seniors’ residence. All their life’s investment in their home disappears overnight. My recently renovated house is appraised at $40,000.

    And then there are those who fall in that gap before age 65, before the OAS kicks in. You see them at the Food Bank every week. And that will get worse when 67 becomes the magic number.

    • The article does have a major-market bias. But that’s where most people live, and so it (supposedly) reflects the reality for the greater portion. Not convinced things are quite as sunny as they try to paint it, but their overall point that things are better for seniors, on average, than they have ever been is likely correct.

  6. Talk about an inflammatory article and the picture that you use on your cover is over the top. My social circle is not huge but I can think of quite a number of seniors who are barely scraping by. They live on small pensions and dwindling savings and they hardly live the lives of the seniors that you portray in your article. I think that it is irresponsible to fan the flames of envy that the younger generation may feel towards retired people. Yes, some retired people may be well off, but certainly not all.

  7. nice to know I will suddenly become rich when I receive my OAP. I am nearly 63, spent all my savings looking after my elderly mother, waiting for a nursing home, and now, can’t find work or get welfare, too old for both apparently.

  8. again another comment on benefits like CPP. I worked all those many years and paid into CPP on every paycheck. No exotic vacations, no fancy car or big screen tv’s. Save and pay off the house! priorities my friends!! Maybe that is the difference.

    • How fortunate you are to be able to afford a house.

      Despite working hard – two jobs, even – forgoing exotic vacations, and not owning a fancy car or a big screen TV, a luxury like a house is something that I will never be able to afford.

  9. Not a senior, but it bugs me that, until the last few sentences, CPP is treated as a social program instead of a fund that people pay into as they work.

    • But it is. Just because you pay in to it doesn’t mean you are entitled to it. You pay taxes for schools your kids won’t use. You pay into EI and rarely qualify for it. And you don’t “bank” the money – today’s senior’s pensions are being paid for by today’s workers. So yes, it is a social program, and it should be subject to a means test.

      • We made a deliberate decision not to have any ‘means tests’ in Canada.

        We are all equal, and none of us are supposed to be marked out as ‘poor’ and on public assistance.

        PS. Today’s senior pensions were paid for by today’s seniors.

        • If that’s the case, why is my generation told that CPP will not be there for us, even though we contribute to it? All CPP revenue is pooled for investment purposes. Which means wealthy boomers are being subsidized by lower income earners. What’s equal about that?

          • Nobody has told you that.

            The CPP is solid. Relax.

        • Today’s seniors did NOT pay for everything.

          All governments combined spent $1 trillion on the current and previous generations. The next generations will take on that debt. This is essentially stealing from children, because the next generation never said: “please spend like crazy and give us the debt to pay”.

  10. I’m an 80 year old widower and only have CPP, OAS and GIS as my monthly income. Comes to about $20,500 annually. Never without work and never had to apply for UI all my working years. And currently have no debt. Best part is that I’m quite happy, living in a rented home with an economic partner and trying to stay within my income.
    So what’s this about all those wealthy seniors???? Seems to me they’re only talking about those spoiled, wealthy seniors.

    • And as a widower making $20,500 a year, how does it make you feel that a senior couple earning $140,000 a year can still qualify for $13,000+ in OAS payments?

  11. Well when asked by my parents (I’m 41) what my retirement strategy is, I truthfully answered “be poor.”

  12. Somewhere in a well-lit office in there’s a Macleans editor
    beaming .. ” see, I told ya .. whip off a few words on generational
    warfare .. throw in a few meaningless letters like X or Y , and we
    got a winner ,, a winner I tell ya. A royal baby bump only comes
    once a year .. we can do this every week, yes “

    • An actual examination of this, or any other, subject is out of the question….you know that.

  13. I am relieved to see this article that points out the current inequities between the generations in our current tax system. As a tax professional in my mid-thirties, now raising a young family, it has become readily apparent that high-income pensioners are receiving unsustainable tax breaks and benefit from social assistance programs such as OAS. The current federal government has already started to decrease these benefits (e.g. raising the age of eligibility for OAS), obviously recognizing this. Examples of these: access to income splitting (not available to young families), pension credits (for each spouse as a result of the same income splitting), tax credits for age, and an additional $6,700 from OAS for each spouse as long as their individual income does not exceed almost $70,000 per year (after being able to split income). Therefore, a couple with a combined income of almost $140,000 per year may be entitled to another $13,400 from our government (note this has nothing to do with CPP or earnings during time spent working). Contrast this with young families who are not even allowed to deduct all of their daycare costs (and the allowable deduction is given to the lowest-income spouse). Low interest rates and debt are the only things allowing young families to put food on their tables, let alone save for retirement.

  14. I am tired of all the whining and unrealistic expectations of the younger generation today. Comparing a life time of hard work to someone half my age is just plain insulting ! It’s apples and oranges, don’t you see that? We paid our dues, you haven’t yet.

    Maybe this generation will have time to work through all we had to do to get ahead. Doubt it with their current lifestyles of “no delayed gratification” on anything.

    Irresponsible article and done solely to increase readership. Full of half truths and invalid comparisons. Shame on you!

    Comparing today’s 30-35 year old to a senior is just like the grasshopper and the ant story! And this article just reflects the fact that the author doesn’t get it all. And that’s what’s wrong with her generation.

    Take a year of here, take a year of there, then complain. Not something the majority of us old folks did for many years, and not until we where able to pay for it!

    Hope you receive as much respect when you’re 65 my dear!

    • A farmer sows his fields in the spring and reaps his harvest in the fall. This should be celebrated not envied or worse destroy his fields so that his harvest is no better than those who left their fields to fallow.

    • Governments spent $1 trillion on the current and previous generations. The next generations will have to pay for this debt. This means the younger people are forced to spend $1 trillion on the older people. This means the older people were better off.

      The Globe and Mail explained that the housing bubble is a transfer of wealth from the young to the old. Housing bubble was created by the government, controlled by older homeowners, who cater more to the older people, because a higher percentage of older people vote.

  15. This is a half plucked chicken, cherry picked for stats. The majority of seniors are not well off…that is a fact well established by taxation Canada.

  16. I guess if your point was to be provocative you succeeded. Didn’t see any other point to this article. It’s an old argument between generations that will never be agreed upon. Having raised 2 kids & put them thru university without them incurring huge debt loads by our sacrificing holidays, new cars or fancy housing, my husband working away from home for years, I feel not one iota of guilt for having a slightly comfortable retirement. And I emphasize slightly, we live on less than $45K per year by continuing to be frugal. My kids earn more money than we did before the age of 40 & have had way better holidays, houses, cars etc than we ever did at their age now. But I certainly don’t begrudge them any of it.

  17. I’d like to know where the writer of this article got her facts. The latest figures from the Canadian government show that 51% of seniors receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) which is only given to those with incomes of less than apx $20,000. The number of seniors visiting food banks has risen substantially over the past few years. Many of us do not have houses with “locked in” money. Retirement homes are out of our reach with an average cost of $2,700 per month, plus more if you want anything besides basic services. This is a despicable article designed to encourage resentment and anger against a group of people who worked years to accumulate what little wealth many of them have.

  18. The author begins by pointing out that it is not benefits to low income seniors that are being questioned, but rather the group of seniors who are quite well-off relative to the Canadian income median – thus the story of the resistance by seniors of a tax change that would benefit low income seniors, but cost high income seniors more.

    Forget means testing for CPP, it’s like stealing someone’s RRSP contributions and would erode public confidence in what is actually a very good system.

    OAS, however, is funded out of general revenues – this year’s taxes (and government debt). I must agree with the author that a retired person making between ~60k/yr and ~105k/yr and or a couple making between ~70k/ry and ~140k/yr who currently receive the benefit should not. My young family lives reasonably on $60K/yr and we aren’t in poverty, so I don’t see why a 70 year old couple with no child related expenses would not be able to do the same and therefore needs this.

    Unfortunately, the article starts off on the right foot, making the distinction between wealthy seniors and low-income seniors, but then lumps all seniors together later – failing to continue to make the distinction. This isn’t helpful to the analysis.

    What is helpful is the general question: why is government sending a significant sum each month to people who have incomes that place them in the top 25% or so of household incomes in a program that is ostensibly there to provide security against poverty for elderly Canadians?

    That money could be better used elsewhere – some of it could better support reducing tuition for younger people or providing affordable daycare programs for families. Some of it could provide better support for seniors who truly need it like some here. I don’t see where the problem is with this general policy direction.

  19. WOW talk about bitterness at a young age
    Time to suck it up buttercup

    Work your whole life then these youngens tell you you dont deserve any breaks

    #bythewater sippin my Pina colada

    David Pylyp

    • Did today’s seniors receive $1 trillion of government debt from the generation before them?

      Did today’s seniors have to pay bubble prices when they bought their first home? A bubble that was created by the government? Which the Globe and Mail explained is a transfer of wealth from the young to the old.

      If not, then shut up.

  20. There is a huge transfer of wealth with the Canadian housing bubble, from the young to the old.

    In addition to that, $1 trillion is being stolen from children via government debt.

    Search for and read: “Screwing the young over and over again newworldparty”

  21. As a senior myself I find that I must be in the category of the 10% who lives under the poverty line. Of the suggested $102000. for a couple or $51000. per person for OAS. would be an incredible increase for me and the wife. And where we could afford a little more than at present. I am certain that many more seniors live under that poverty line besides myself. I would be all for a sliding scale based on income and or a clawback if that would help the disparity between young and old – savings of 730 million dollars to the Canadian economy and supporting the less wealthy among us. A fairer distribution of moneys now in government coffers per year. Much of the stats
    mentioned in this editorial by Tamsin McMahon is not in my opinion the true story of many more seniors who are left under the radar and live day to day in much less favorable circumstances than eluded to here. R.Davi