“Canadian dream” far more difficult to achieve for younger Canadians

“Canadian dream” far more difficult to achieve for younger Canadians 

For boomers, the “Canadian dream” more or less echoed the dream our parents had – education, work, a house, a family, maybe even a cottage, and then a well-deserved retirement.

Research (using 2015 data) shows there is a serious flaw in this narrative for our millennial children. According to research from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), featured in a National Post article, millennials are “less likely to reach middle-income levels in their 20s than their baby boomer parents.”

Why aren’t our kids making it to the middle class?

The research suggests “the middle class is shrinking — squeezed by high housing and education costs, displaced by automation and lacking the skills most valued in the digital economy.” The middle class is defined, for a single person in Canada, as requiring an income level of 75 to 200 per cent of the national median income, the article reports. For single Canucks, that’s $29,000 to about $78,000, the story notes.

One of the unfortunate aspects of this so-called dream is that in order to advance upwards, you have to achieve each step of the ladder. Education costs have skyrocketed in the last few decades, forcing younger people to have to take out huge education loans. Wages from work, the article notes, aren’t keeping up with the real cost of living. According to the OECD research, “between 2008 and 2016 real median incomes grew by an average of just 0.3 per cent per year,” compared to 1.6 per cent annually in the mid-1990s to 2000s.

So the wages from work aren’t sufficient for housing, with middle-income earners having to spend “almost a third of their income on accommodation,” the report states. In the 1990s, that figure was more like 25 per cent.  That’s why our millennials struggle to get to the “getting a house” stage, and if they can afford to start a family, is there anything left over for that dream cottage and longish retirement?

According to the Seeking Alpha blog, the answer is probably no. “At 1.1%, the Canadian saving rate is today near all-time lows, while Canadian debt is at all-time highs,” the blog notes. There’s an obvious reason – wages haven’t kept up with the cost of housing, so the younger folks are straining just to cover the mortgage. There’s less left for saving.

Research by Richard Shillington has found that even boomers aren’t awash in savings as they approach retirement. His study found that 47 per cent of Canadians aged 55 to 64 have “no accrued pension benefits,” and that for this age group, the median level of retirement savings was a paltry $3,000.

There’s still time to turn this ship around. Policy makers should continue to look at ways to help new people enter the housing market, and perhaps old ideas like housing co-operatives – popular when high interest rates restricted people from owning homes – should be revisited. Ways to make education less costly would be a huge help. Improved government pension benefits are a help, but why not continue to develop new workplace pension plans – or continue to encourage private employers to join publicly-run plans? Any policy that helps Canadians move up that middle class ladder is worth exploring.

If you’re among the many Canadians lacking a pension plan at work, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is designed with you in mind. You determine how much you want to save, and they do the rest, investing your money through your working years and arranging to pay you a monthly lifetime pension at the finish line. Even a small start can make a big difference down the road.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

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