Time to soak the seniors

Posted on in Equality Delivery System

TheGlobeandMail.com – Opinion/Aging
Jun. 07, 2016.   MARGARET WENTE

I hate being called a “senior.” A senior is a hunched little old lady with a cane who can barely cross the street. I’m not that person.

I prefer to think of myself as a hot babe pumping iron (okay: not so hot, and small amounts of iron).

The perks aren’t bad, though. Seniors’ specials at Shoppers, cut-rate movies, cheap subway tickets. Everybody gives us deals, even though lots of us are loaded.

Justin Trudeau has made it even sweeter. In the spirit of repealing everything the Harper government ever thought or did, he rolled back the Conservatives’ entirely sensible reform to Old Age Security. It would have changed the age that people could start collecting OAS payments from 65 to 67. Maintaining the status quo will cost another $11.2-billion a year by 2030.

Where will the money come from? Not us! It will come from our kids, and yours, and their kids.

Another great thing about OAS is that you can get it even if you don’t need it. You and your senior spouse don’t lose all your OAS benefits until your income hits $236,110 a year.

That extra money comes in handy to pay the air-conditioning bill for the winter place in Florida.

The Liberals say they believe in fairness and redistribution. But they don’t really practise what they preach, argues a new paper written by Ian Lee and Sean Speer for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a leading policy group. (It’s the source for most of the numbers I use here.)

If they did, they’d stop throwing so much money at us.

Back in 1976, 37 per cent of all seniors lived in poverty. Today, it’s about 7 per cent – much lower than the poverty rate for children or any other segment of the population. Canadian seniors are among the most affluent people in the world. This is partly due to government policies, and partly due to our spectacular, one-time-only generational luck.

We got the best of everything – the jobs, the houses, the fat returns on real estate and stocks, the company pension plans.

Today, the average male who’s 65 or older earns more money than males between the ages of 25 and 34 ($45,817 vs. $42,160). Since 1984, the median net worth of seniors has risen almost fourfold – more than any other group. Today the average senior is worth almost nine times more than the average millennial, according to the Bank of Montreal.

So much for fairness. We’re robbing from the poor to give to the rich. By one calculation, Canadian governments spend between $33,321 and $40,152 a year on each person aged 65 and over – about three times more than on anybody else. And as the boomers hit their golden years, the problems will only get worse.

On top of pensions, we’ll need new hips, nursing homes and dementia care. As Mr. Lee and Mr. Speer write, “The social welfare state model is increasingly designed to redistribute wealth from the working-age population to retired seniors.”

There are two simple ways to cut down on the elderly bias in spending.

One is to acknowledge that most of us aren’t lining up at the food bank, and means-test our entitlements accordingly. The other is to redefine the meaning of “elderly” to catch up to reality.

Don’t pretend we’re old at 65 when most of us are not. Adjust the “retirement age” to better correspond with people’s current life spans and their physical and mental capacities. Today, most Canadians say “old’’ doesn’t start until at least age 70, according to a new Angus Reid survey. People who are over 65 say old age doesn’t really start until you’re 81.

I’m not saying everyone should be forced to labour in the salt mines until they drop dead. I’m just saying that today’s millennials should not be taxed to pay for the boomers’ air-conditioning bills in Florida.

The chokehold of the elderly on social spending throttles the prospects of the young. If Mr. Trudeau really cared about social justice, he’d try to loosen their grip.

Forget taxing the rich – sadly, there aren’t enough rich people to make a difference. But there are more old people all the time, driving Porsches, pumping iron, and collecting lots and lots of lovely money they don’t need. The trouble is, taking them on would take real courage.

< http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/time-to-soak-the-seniors/article30306595/ >

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