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Monday, May 4, 2015

The "Luxury" of Retirement

Whether or not the Third Phase of life is a positive or negative experience depends on a lot of different things, not the least of which is money or as the bankers like to say "financial security." Worrying about money happens during every phase of life in varying ways and to different degrees, but worrying about money in the Third Phase is becoming both a deeply important personal issue and a very compelling public policy argument. In recent weeks, the issue of the financial independence of older citizens has been the subject of financial reports, political worrying, class anxiety and really snarky ill-informed commentary. 

In a new study by HSBC a stark reality was laid out: "half of Canadians either plan to ease into retirement by working reduced hours before hanging it up for good or have no plans to ever quit."Now we can argue about the methodology of the survey but the reality is that lack of resources to retire has long been a concern of planners. A year ago the news was just as grim“I think there’s a broad consensus that we are heading for a retirement income crisis,” said Murray Gold, managing partner at Koskie Minsky law firm, and a pension specialist who advises the Ontario Federation of Labour. “Two-thirds of the workforce doesn’t have any pensions, and the kinds of pensions we have aren’t as good as they were 20 years ago." The positive spin on the idea of never retiring is that some people like to keep working for the love of working but what is increasingly true is that for many people staying in the work force is not a choice. And when no choice is involved the consequences are very real, nasty and divisive to all of society. As one U.S. publication argued: "One of the cruellest manifestations of widening inequality happens in life's final quarter." Some people spend more on their funerals than many people have to spend on a year of retirement. 

There are increasing signs that this 'income crisis' being experienced by older citizens is having an impact on politics. Last month's Canadian budget held real treats for older voters, not so much younger ones. If voters are poor retirees, policy decisions will be skewed both in the short term and the long term. And it is not just politics that will be warped. Policy planners are trying to figure out just what"Delaying Retirement Means For Younger Workers." Here's the bottom line concern: the longer older people remain in the work force the harder it is for younger workers to advance in the workplace, the harder it is for young people to build families, and futures and to even consider their own retirement. And this is not just a problem affecting the old and the young but it is also squeezing hard on the generation in the middle. One of the best places for keen analysis and interesting perspective is Generation Squeeze, a new and intriguing lobby group. As they like to say: 

Under 49 and feeling squeezed? You’re not alone, and governments are failing to adapt.

These are tough issues and ill-informed commentary doesn't help. Margaret Wente at the Globe and Mail has lept into the fray or hopped onto the bandwagon of questioning "senior discounts" arguing that seniors are wealthy and don't deserve the breaks from corporations or government. The reality is that she and the Institute for Research on Public Policy are just ignoring the truth that many seniors lack the wealth Wente has and giving breaks to different groups of citizens is historically the to and fro that makes society work. Seniors pay property taxes so schools are funded and seniors get help with snow removal because of obvious physical realities. Everyone benefits and to suggest otherwise is wrong and shit-disturbing at the lowest level.

We need a discussion that helps us navigate the real economic conditions of all levels of society. Not one-offs intended to simply pit different generations against each other. P

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