“Canadian dream” far more difficult to achieve for younger CanadiansMay 2, 2019
“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|
Is senior poverty linked to a lack of retirement saving or workplace plans?March 14, 2019
An interview with Chris Roberts of the Canadian Labour Congress
These days, it’s pretty common knowledge that many of us don’t save enough for retirement, and/or don’t have a savings plan at work. Save with SPP reached out to Chris Roberts, Director of Social and Economic Policy for the Canadian Labour Congress, to see how this lack of retirement preparedness may connect to seniors having debt and poverty problems.
Is the shortage of workplace pension plans (and the move away from defined benefit plans) in part responsible for higher levels of senior poverty/senior debt?
“Certainly old-age poverty rates and indebtedness among seniors have risen over the past two decades, while pension coverage has fallen (and DB coverage in the private sector has collapsed). Seniors’ labour-market participation has also doubled over those time period.
“It’s clear (from research by the Broadbent Institute) that falling pension coverage and inadequate retirement savings more broadly will deepen the financial insecurity and even poverty of many seniors. But while there’s been considerable research linking stagnant wages and rising household indebtedness, studies linking falling pension coverage with rising poverty and indebtedness among seniors are relatively scarce.
“Both rising poverty rates and growing indebtedness among seniors have several causes. Canada’s public pensions, especially Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), provide a minimum level of income in retirement for individuals without private pensions or other sources of income. Part of the rise in the low-income measure of old-age poverty has been due to the fact that OAS is indexed to the consumer price index rather than the average industrial wage, causing seniors’ incomes to lag behind median incomes. Unattached seniors, especially women, are at particularly high risk of poverty, but so are recent newcomers to Canada who are eligible for only a partial OAS benefit.
“With respect to rising indebtedness, a declining number (according to Stats Can data) of senior-led households are debt-free. More Canadians are taking debt (especially mortgage debt) into retirement, and they’re shouldering more debt in retirement as well. At the same time, the total assets of senior-led families have also risen, and their net worth has grown even as debt levels rose. Indebtedness and net worth seems to have grown fastest (again according to Stats Can data) among the top 20 per cent of families ranked by income.
“So I think we have to be somewhat careful to avoid seeing rising senior household debt levels as driven solely or even primarily by financial hardship caused by declining pension coverage. There is certainly ample evidence (according to research by Hoyes Michalos) of a significant and growing segment of seniors that are struggling with debt and financial pressure. But rising debt levels among higher-income senior households likely have other causes besides financial hardship.”
Is a related problem the lack of personal retirement savings by those without pension plans?
“Richard Shillington’s study for the Broadbent Institute demonstrated that a retirement savings shortfall for those without significant private pension income will be a major problem for many current and future retirees. This shortfall has also been documented in the United States (see a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College). While retirement contributions as a share of earnings have been rising (even as the household saving rate fell), these additional contributions have gone toward workplace pension plans; contributions to individual saving plans have declined, suggesting that those without a pension have not been able to save independently to compensate for not having an actual pension (see this article from Union Research for an explanation).”
Is debt itself a key problem (i.e., idea of people taking debt into retirement and having to pay it off with reduced income)?
“I think rising debt levels in retirement do pose risks, even if the challenges vary significantly with income. For low- and modest-income seniors, some forms of debt (e.g. consumer credit, payday lending) can be onerous and even unconscionable. For home-owners, even if mortgage debt is accompanied by rising home values and rising net worth, servicing debts while managing health-related and other costs on fixed incomes can be challenging for seniors. Debts acquired at earlier stages of the life-cycle will likely become a mounting problem in Canada, as, for instance, the student debt of family members (see article from Politico) and seniors themselves (see coverage from CNBC) is becoming an urgent problem in the United States.”
Apart from things like CPP expansion, which seems a good thing for younger people, can anything be done today to help retirees to have better outcomes?
“Increasing GIS but especially improving OAS will be important to improving financial security for seniors. For the reason discussed above, OAS will have to be expanded or indexed differently in order to stabilize relative old-age poverty. But in my view, there are also good reasons to expand it. Current as well as future seniors would benefit. OAS is a virtually-universal seniors’ benefit (about seven per cent of seniors have high enough incomes that their OAS benefit is clawed back by the recovery tax), and it’s particularly important to low- and modest earners, women, Indigenous Canadians, and workers with disabilities. It isn’t geared to employment history or earnings, so it’s purpose-built for a labour-market increasingly characterized by precarity, and atypical employment relationships (e.g. “self-employment,” independent contractors, etc). Modest income-earners with pensions would benefit from a higher OAS; these workers earn only a small workplace pension benefit, and unlike increases to CPP, their employers would be unlikely to try to offset the costs of a higher (tax-funded) OAS benefit. While growing along with the retirement of the baby-boom cohort, the cost of OAS (as a share of GDP) is projected to peak around 2033 before declining. And at a time when workplace pension plans, individual savings plans, and even the CPP increasingly depend on uncertain and sometimes volatile investment returns, the OAS is funded through our mostly progressive income tax system.”
We thank Chris Roberts for taking the time to talk to Save with SPP.
Given the scarcity of workplace pensions, more and more Canadians must be self-reliant and must save on their own for retirement. An option worth consideration is opening a Saskatchewan Pension Plan account; your money is invested professionally at a very low-cost by a not-for-profit, government-sponsored pension plan, and at retirement, you have the option of converting your savings to a lifetime income stream. Check it out today at saskpension.com.
|Written by Martin Biefer
|Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22|
Does CPP expansion help low income earners?September 22, 2016
By Sheryl Smolkin
Low earners stand to gain little from an expanded Canada Pension Plan (CPP), according to a new C.D. Howe Institute report. In “The Pressing Question: Does CPP Expansion Help Low Earners?”, authors Kevin Milligan and Tammy Schirle show the large differences in the net payoff from the expanded CPP for lower and higher earners.
Federal and provincial finance ministers agreed in June to expand the Canada Pension Plan. Under the status quo, CPP offers a 25% replacement rate on earnings up to a cap of $54,900. The expanded CPP will add a new layer that raises the replacement rate to 33.3% up to a new earnings cap of about $82,900 when the program is fully phased in by 2025.
To pay for this, both employer and employee contributions will be raised by one percentage point up to the existing earnings cap, and by four percentage points between the old and new earning caps. This expansion will be phased in during the period 2019 to 2025 for contributions, with benefits being phased in over the next 50 years commensurate to contributions paid.
This reform will substantially raise expected CPP benefits for most young workers now entering the workforce. For lower- and middle-earning workers, the higher replacement rate will lead to an eventual benefit increase of about 33% over existing CPP benefits.
For a high-earning worker, the maximum CPP benefits will increase more than 50% over the status quo. These expansions are large enough to make a noticeable difference for the younger generation of workers as the expanded CPP matures over the coming decades.
However, the C.D. Howe study authors note two important shortcomings of the new package hamper its effectiveness, both related to low earners.
First, low earners are already well covered by the existing suite of public pension benefits – many now receive more income when retired than when working. Why expand coverage where it is not needed? As a contributory pension, the CPP risks worsening the balance of income between working and retirement years for low earners.
Second, the income-tested withdrawal of some government-program benefits wipes out much of the impact of extra CPP benefits for many low-earners. Around one-third of Canadian seniors currently receive the income-tested Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), so concerns about interactions with income-tested benefits have a broad base.
In order to be eligible for the GIS in 2016, a single, widowed or divorced pensioner receiving a full OAS pension cannot have over $17,376 individual income. Where a couple each receives a full OAS pension they will not be eligible for the GIS if their combined income exceeds $22,944.
To summarize these issues: expanding CPP for low earners risks making some Canadians pay for pension coverage they don’t need. To make matters worse, extra contributions may reduce the living standards of low earners today for modest net rewards in retirement tomorrow.
The CPP agreement-in-principle reached by the finance ministers may address some of these concerns by offering an improvement to the Working Income Tax Benefit alongside the CPP expansion. It is possible that an expanded WITB could effectively counteract increased CPP contributions by some low earners, but no details of the WITB expansion have been provided to date. Nevertheless, low earners would still face the problem of CPP-GIS interactions that undercut the impact of expanded CPP benefits.
In a Globe and Mail article, authors Janet McFarland and Ian McGugan also note that expanded CPP does not do much to help people who do not collect CPP in the first place. That describes many senior women who spent most of their lives as homemakers and so earned little or nothing in CPP benefits. About 28% of single senior women over 65 live in poverty, according to a study this spring for the Broadbent Institute by statistician Richard Shillington of Tristat Resources.
In addition they say the planned CPP changes will also do only a limited amount to help affluent savers because the maximum amount of income covered by the plan will increase to only about $82,800 by 2025. Therefore, those with six-figure incomes will still have to save on their own if they want a retirement income that will replace a considerable portion of their incomes above the expanded limit.