Boomers know how to play politics

WindsorStar.com – business
October 24, 2011.    By Paul Kershaw, Special To The Windsor Star

There is a silent generational crisis occurring in households across this country, one that Canadians neglect because we are stuck in stale debates. Consider three facts.

1. Average household income for Canadian couples approaching retirement (baby boomers) has increased 18 per cent since the mid-1970s. This increase is nearly four times greater than the increase reported for couples age 25 to 34 over the same period.

2. In 1976, the low-income rate among seniors in Canada was 29 per cent. As of 2009, it is five per cent. By contrast, the low-income rate for families with children is 10 per cent – twice as high.

3. Boomers approach retirement with far greater private wealth than previous generations because they lucked out in a housing market that increased 76 per cent over their adult lives. With this additional wealth in housing, boomers now transform expectations for retirement, making globetrotting and second homes more and more the norm. All the while, skyrocketing housing prices are the primary source of private debt for the generations that follow – the very people who must sustain the economy to pay for the pensions and medical care required by an aging population, and the very people who must invest in Canada’s future: their children and boomers’ grandchildren.

While boomers approach retirement with more private income and wealth than previous generations of retirees, they leave far larger public debts than they inherited.

Although our economy doubled in size since 1976, our national debt nearly tripled.

There is also Canada’s environmental debt. It remains among the very highest in the industrialized world, as measured by carbon dioxide emissions per person.

While we have made no progress reducing these emissions per person since 1976, many other countries have since decreased their environmental footprint significantly.

This legacy of growing public debts amid greater private wealth for those approaching retirement invites questions about an intergenerational tension. Do boomers care that other generations don’t share the standard of living they now enjoy?

There is absolutely no doubt that boomers care.

But the past federal election paints a worrisome picture.

Political leaders of all major parties prioritized:

  • Status quo increases to medical care spending, which generally overlook health promotion when citizens are younger.
  • Strengthening pensions and reducing seniors’ poverty, even though poverty among seniors is already less than half of the poverty rate for families with young children.

This past election showed that boomers play politics well, and boomer leaders responded accordingly.

By contrast, the generation raising young kids does not participate politically nearly as well, and they get a bad deal as a result.

We know they get a bad deal because national and international data show that Canadians have been slow to adapt public policy in response to the time, income and service squeeze with which the generation raising young kids struggles. This is the case in all provinces, with some exceptions in Quebec.

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