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Elmira
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
YOUR COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER:

Retirement Put on Hold

Whether it’s out of necessity or desire to keep at it, increasing numbers of seniors are opting to stay in the workforce

Marilyn Curry’s work hours started to shrink to part-time last year and she began to worry. In their early 60s the Elmira office worker and her husband Wayne – retired and working part-time as a school bus driver – are nursing a big dream to relax and see the world. But, uncertain what the future will hold financially for the couple, plane tickets are put on hold for a while.

The house, the car, the kids and grandkids; income stability is still a gamble for residents like Wayne and Marilyn Curry who need to stay in the workforce longer. When it comes to retirement, they’re not sure what the cards hold.
The house, the car, the kids and grandkids; income stability is still a gamble for residents like Wayne and Marilyn Curry who need to stay in the workforce longer. When it comes to retirement, they’re not sure what the cards hold.

“Going from a full paycheque to half a paycheque, your bills don’t go in half. That’s, unfortunately I guess, life. We were hoping to sell our house and do some travelling but the way things are going right now I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” she said.

The prospect of dipping into their life savings and paying the subsequent taxes has the couple struggling with what Curry calls a catch-22.

“You need the money and you can’t take it because you are going to get dinged.”

The population of seniors and those nearing the retirement years is growing rapidly with the economic and fiscal implications of supporting and employing a growing base of older residents a looming issue, says Susan Eng, head of advocacy at the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP).

The category is largely overlooked by the public she says, because of a lingering belief in a system that sees workers retire after age 65. Yet, the number of seniors in the Canadian workforce has doubled from just over 300,000 in 2006 to over 600,000 older workers identified by Statistics Canada in 2013. Canadians aged 60 and over account for about eight per cent of the labour market.

“So, in just seven years the number of people 65 and older has doubled. It’s a pretty massive trend. There are about 18 million Canadians in the workforce,” Eng said.

Workers like Curry expect to be working past the age of 65 if their work situations fail to improve. With a set of long-learned accounting and office skills she is searching for a second job, hopefully close to her Elmira home.

Why do seniors keep working? Well, there’s good news and bad news, Eng notes. Many are living longer and healthier lives, enabling them to continue developing beloved careers. Others, affected by recent economic downturns or perhaps burdened by the costs of treating illness or a frail family member, are compelled to stay employed to pay the bills, though little research has been done on the exact ratios.

There is evidence that since the 1990s older workers have increasingly delayed their retirement, coinciding with an increased employment rate among that group, according to Statistics Canada.

The same set of 2010 data shows this isn’t a particularly new development. Already in 2008 both male and female workers aged 50 expected to stay in the work force an additional 16 years, 3.5 years longer than 50-year-olds in the mid 1990s. Prior to this time period there was a strong trend for earlier retirement due to high public sector deficits and downsizing in the private sector. Today more seniors than ever are seeing the classic idea of their “golden years” postponed, creating a demand for social services.

Despite removal of mandatory retirement legislation, meaning seniors don’t have to retire at age 65, Waterloo Region’s resources, like the provincially regulated Targeted Initiative for Older Workers program, still focuses on the population aged 55-64, though with a few exceptions.

“In 2013 we were allowed to bring in 100 people into the program and usually 30 per cent of that is exceptions. We can bring in 30 people who are under 55 – usually people 50 to 55 and people who are over 64. I’ve had clients who have been in their late sixties, given the recession and things like that … just in the last three years I’ve seen a huge increase,” said Lutherwood career consultant Elisha Rivard.

Lutherwood works with the Region of Waterloo to provide employment services and staff is seeing an increased number of ageing workers coming through the system.

With no programs specifically for jobseekers over the age of 65, there is no age limit to using the region’s employment services outlined by Employment Ontario. Seniors can get a chance to learn or relearn computer skills to glean the resources they need and how to apply for work in a modern environment, Rivard said.

Efforts of older workers are successful, and though the region’s cities are continuing to create many high-tech jobs more suitable for younger workers, there are employers who appreciate a seasoned and experienced eye, she noted.

Older tradespeople are a good example, as their many years of practical experience on the job appeals to employers. Businesses are hard hit to replace seasoned, unionized and non-unionized employees who usually retire or taper off starting at age 65 due to good benefits and in-demand services, says Art Sinclair, vice-president of public policy and advocacy at the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce.

“Construction and trucking would come to mind. There are concerns in both of those industries about people retiring and newer workers not being able to come in and fill the jobs.”

The problem lies less in education or skill and more in the practical knowledge and behavior acquired through years on the job, he added.

Rick Trapp, owner of Elmira construction firm Emerald Homes Ltd., agrees.

“I’m not seeing a lot of [older workers] stay, not in our jobsites. But, there definitely is a problem in terms of replacing the older workers with skilled younger workers. It’s just a lack of people being directed into those trades and being properly trained for them.”

In Waterloo Region especially, the workforce is younger than the rest of Canada, according to Chamber of Commerce statistics.

Bill Alderson, program coordinator of architecture, construction engineering and technology at Conestoga College, says the key to balancing the exodus of ageing tradespeople and the influx of rookies is for educational institutions and employers to work hand-in-hand.

“Employers should realize, and they do in some cases, [that they need to] get in there and start being a partner with the graduates. The education institute cannot put somebody out to step into the shoes of a 20-year employee, practically, that’s almost impossible.”

On a broader scale, Sinclair says Waterloo Region can be a difficult area to find employment all around, despite many jobs being available.

“It’s kind of unusual since we have companies like Research In Motion [Blackberry] and a lot of the technology-based companies, they have a lot of job openings. But, at the same time there are a lot of people looking for work. Essentially the issue is across Canada: there are jobs without people and people without jobs. There seems to be a mismatch.”

In some cases, Sinclair adds, experience and work ethic can propel an older worker to fill the available positions despite the stigma of perceived ageism.

“A lot of people believe that ageism is holding them back when in reality a lot of employers like to hire people who are older because they have more experience and it brings a new perspective into the workforce. There’s not as much ageism in the workforce as a lot of people 55-plus believe,” says Rivard of the situation.

For the unemployed, there are solutions to ageism in the workplace, she notes. Many clients come in looking for training in jobs such as personal support workers, drivers, administration and accounting. Those are professions that have not changed much over the years and could benefit from a person with life-long experience. Indeed, it seems the market can be surprisingly kind to skilled older workers.

There’s been an outpouring of older Canadian workers in the labour market since the economic recovery began in 2009, a TD Economics study in 2012 showed, accounting for one third of all net job gains, yet representing a small portion of the market (eight per cent).

Workers aged 70-plus are even part of this demographic with results attributed in part to longer lifespan and more medical options. More surprising was the 100,000 net jobs added in the 60-plus age group at the depth of the recession, the study noted. On the flipside of the job spectrum, workers aged 59 and under recorded more than 500,000 in net job losses over the same period.

This year the latest Statistics Canada March 2014 Labour Force Survey shows unemployment declining slightly from seven to six per cent across the country. Albeit the trend is driven by an increased number of youth joining the job market, but employment for workers  aged 55 and over has risen by 3.4 per cent (by 114,000) since last March, with almost all the result of an ageing populace.

Wellesley resident Dr. Mavis Kerr has been a registered family therapist for over 20 years at Southern Ontario Counseling Centre. Kerr had the opportunity to taper off slowly, having retired in April, at a well-loved profession. But over the years, she has noticed a difference in how co-workers saw her.

“I worked in a setting with a handful of therapists who are in private practices together … and everyone assumed I was on the brink of retirement and that I would soon be gone and my perception is that there is a certain amount of ageism, of the young people seeing you as ‘over the hill’ so to speak. Part of it is that the people I’ve worked with for a long time, a lot of them have retired and so I didn’t have the peer group that I used to have,” she said.

“Why did I choose to stick around? I still really enjoyed my work; I believe that I did better with a certain level of structure.”

Many of Kerr’s former clients were educators, an industry, she has observed, with options for retirement especially in the field of supply work where experienced instructors are in demand.

She notes, however, “A lot of them have moral issues about the fact that all of these young people are desperately trying to get into the teaching area and there are no spots for them. Some of us oldies are hanging around and taking places that could be joyfully taken by someone younger.”

Canada-wide, provinces are just starting to target the senior population when it comes to job services. Some, like the Third Quarter initiative established in Winnipeg in 2010, are moving faster than others.

Created through the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, the non-profit job service aims to minimize fears of ageism in the job search.  Enjoying recent federal funding, the service has sprawled across the country in order to provide job match opportunities for older workers. Eng observes that the job opportunities, gleaned through soliciting employers who confirm a wish to hire older people, tend to be casual part-time and temporary. But it’s a start.

In the meantime, advocate groups find enough fodder in the issue to keep creating new initiatives like workplace re-education, with some uptake from the government.

“One of our major focuses [at CARP National] for this year is to target and drill down on how we can help older workers. This is something that we’ve raised in the past and there has been some response by some governments and others who talk about re-training older workers. They acknowledge that there is a special need in this case. One of the things we did of course was to get rid of mandatory retirement at the federal level,” said Eng.

Mandatory retirement remained on the federal books until last year, covering federally regulated businesses like broadcasting, railways, airlines, banking positions and the like.

She added, “And, while those places generally didn’t have many people who wanted to keep working because mostly they were unionized and they had good pension plans, there were in some categories, notably pilots, who wanted to keep working. Some people had a need and others just wanted to keep working as a matter of personal right and dignity.”

Legislation stopping federally mandated retirement was enacted in December 2011 to take effect one year later to let employers get organized. It finally came into force in December 2012.

The changes in government and the non-profit sector are steadily reforming what today’s senior looks and acts like, far from the stereotype of old ladies with blue hair or Max Goldman in 1993’s Grumpy Old Men. The key today is to offer choice and dignity for the elderly in a new fashion.

“One expert study presented in a legal case said only 15 per cent of those who would be eligible to have an opportunity to stay beyond the normal retirement age actually does. Eighty-five per cent just carry on in the normal pattern of retiring when they can. In many cases it’s having the right to choose when you leave, that is more important to them,” said Eng.

“The senior of today is not your grandparent’s senior. …Today’s senior is a boomer who just started to turn 65 in 2011 and they continue on with their lives. Whatever they are doing, whatever sports activities, work, travel, they want choice. They want to slow down when they choose, not when somebody else squeezes them out and they don’t expect to have their rights taken away from them simply because of their chronological age.”

Though a majority of seniors still choose to retire, the prolonged longevity of seniors is leading advocates and able bodied older workers to vie for more opportunities after the age of 65 to continue careers, achieve comfortable retirement, or access resources for new ventures.

Supporters of such ideas are pushing communities and government bodies to accommodate Canada’s elders now more commonly and perhaps aptly labeled as zoomers, boomers, and seniors.

Elena Maystruk
Elena Maystruk
Elena Maystruk was a journalist at the Woolwich Observer where she covered news, business, sports and human interest beats. She has previously worked with university and independent publications in Toronto, covering everything from the city music scene to the local branch of the Occupy movement. She is a long-time community enthusiast and volunteer in Waterloo Region and part of the 2012 Media Studies graduating class at Guelph-Humber University. Maystruk is currently a staff writer for the Strathroy Age Dispatch.

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