Se­niors pass young peo­ple in Canada

Lat­est num­bers from 2016 cen­sus to be re­leased Wed­nes­day

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JOR­DAN PRESS OT­TAWA —

Paul Ker­shaw loves his 72-year-old mother and his 101year-old grand­mother.

But they rep­re­sent a grow­ing chal­lenge for the coun­try, and Ker­shaw, 42, will be count­ing on younger age groups to pro­tect and sup­port the ser­vices that se­niors need as Canada bears wit­ness to a his­toric grey­ing of its pop­u­la­tion.

The next batch of num­bers from the 2016 cen­sus, due Wed­nes­day, is ex­pected to show that thanks to ag­ing baby boomers, there are as many se­niors in Canada as young peo­ple, if not more — the first time in Cana­dian his­tory that has been the case.

There is also likely to be a jump in the num­ber of cen­te­nar­i­ans, in­clud­ing Ker­shaw’s grand­mother, show­cas­ing an­other trend the age and sex data from Sta­tis­tics Canada will con­firm: Cana­di­ans are not only get­ting older, but also liv­ing longer.

Wed­nes­day’s re­lease ought to trig­ger a na­tional dis­cus­sion about the chal­lenges Canada faces in the com­ing years, said Ker­shaw, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor in the school of pop­u­la­tion and pub­lic health at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia.

Those in­clude how best to serve the grow­ing needs of the el­derly, how to make sure the younger gen­er­a­tions don’t get swamped in the wake of the boomers and how far gov­ern­ment pol­icy should go when it comes to keep­ing peo­ple in the work­force.

Fed­eral spend­ing on se­niors’ ben­e­fits is ex­pected to climb from $51.1 bil­lion this fis­cal year to $63.7 bil­lion by 2022 — a $12.6-bil­lion in­crease that eas­ily out­strips a decade of planned Lib­eral spend­ing on a na­tional hous­ing strat­egy or child care.

That in­crease, about 5.7 per cent a year, also dwarfs even the most bullish eco­nomic growth pro­jec­tions, warned Ker­shaw, the founder of the group “Gen­er­a­tion Squeeze,” which seeks to en­gage young peo­ple in pol­i­tics.

“We still need to have this im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tion in Canada about the de­gree to which we are us­ing the vast ma­jor­ity of our eco­nomic growth each year to be cover­ing the costs of an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.”

De­mo­graph­ics, by their very na­ture, are slow-mov­ing; Wed­nes­day’s num­bers will yield few sur­prises, since peo­ple age and die in pre­dictable pat­terns. But their slow-mov­ing and pre­dictable na­ture makes them easy to ig­nore, de­mog­ra­phers warn.

The fig­ures will add an­other di­men­sion to the por­trait of Canada the five-year cen­sus be­gan paint­ing ear­lier this year with the re­lease of the coun­try’s over­all pop­u­la­tion fig­ures. Ad­di­tional lay­ers will be added through­out the year, in­clud­ing fam­ily, house­hold and mar­i­tal sta­tus data in Au­gust; im­mi­gra­tion and Abo­rig­i­nal Peo­ples num­bers in Oc­to­ber; and fig­ures de­tail­ing ed­u­ca­tion, jobs and work pat­terns in Novem­ber.

On Wed­nes­day, ex­perts and pol­icy-mak­ers will be look­ing for clues about which age co­horts are grow­ing and which are on the de­cline.

Wed­nes­day’s num­bers are ex­pected to show that on cen­sus day 2016, which was May 10, the per­cent­age of those over 65 was roughly equal to the per­cent­age of those aged 15 and un­der.

Such a shift would be a dra­matic swing from the height of the baby boom 50 years ago, when se­niors com­prised less than eight per cent of the pop­u­la­tion and the youngest co­hort was 34 per cent, said Doug Nor­ris, chief de­mog­ra­pher at En­vi­ron­ics An­a­lyt­ics.

None­the­less, the cen­sus fig­ures are ex­pected to show Canada re­mains one of the youngest coun­tries in the G20, Nor­ris said.

“Canada is ag­ing more than many other coun­tries, but we’re still at a lower level, even with that faster change, than cer­tainly most Euro­pean coun­tries,” said Nor­ris

DAVID P. BALL, METRO FILE PHOTO

A $12.6-bil­lion-in­crease in spend­ing on se­niors’ ben­e­fits by 2022 — about 5.7 per cent a year — dwarfs even the most bullish eco­nomic growth pro­jec­tions, warns Paul Ker­shaw, the founder of the group Gen­er­a­tion Squeeze.

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