The incomes of B.C. seniors are being eroded faster than anywhere else in Canada according to a report by Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie.
Her July 13 report, based on StatsCan income data, said B.C. senior families have seen their annual median income fall by 5.7 percent since 2013. The picture is even grimmer for single seniors, who have seen their income drop by 6.3 percent.
That compares to national figures of a 1.9 percent increase in median income for senior families, and a 2.3 percent increase for single seniors.
Compared to other age brackets, the drop appears even more precipitous in B.C. Working-age couples in B.C. saw an increase in income of 9.7 percent; single working-age individuals an increase of 4.7 percent.
In the working age category the comparison between B.C. and there rest of Canada is reversed – working aged people fared better here than in the rest of the country. Nationally working aged couples saw an income increase of 4.5 percent; single individuals a decrease of 2 per cent.
“We have to start paying attention to what the data are telling us and stop listening to generationally divisive inaccurate generalizations that portray seniors as rich,” said Mackenzie.
“We know that seniors have the lowest median income of any age cohort over 25 and now we know that, in BC, seniors’ incomes are actually shrinking while other age groups are experiencing significant increases.”
There aren’t any clear answers as to why B.C. seniors are faring so much worse than seniors in other parts of Canada.
A request Minister of Social Development Michelle Stilwell’s office had not been responded to by press time Tuesday afternoon. The Chronicle wanted to know if:
• The province accepts the data presented by Mackenzie;
• What factors are contributing to the erosion of senior’s incomes;
• If the provincial government will be formulating a strategy to deal with the issue.
Mackenzie’s office was cautious about offering an explanation for the slide in B.C. seniors’ incomes. “It’s hard for us to pin down any reason as to why,” said Director of Communication Sarah Darling.
Some suggested factors were:
• The higher dependence of B.C. seniors on investment income, during a period when interest rates and returns on investments are low;
• The relative longevity of B.C. seniors, which means some are living beyond the terms of their Registered Retirement Income Funds;
• No increase to the BC Seniors Supplement, which goes to the 54,000 lowest income seniors, for 25 years.
One remedy being proposed by Mackenzie is a provincial government managed plan that would allow seniors to ‘leverage’ the equity in their homes.
“She would like to see the provincial government look at how seniors could leverage a little more creatively the equity in their homes,” Darling said. “That is what she has been discussing with the Minister of Finance (Michael de Jong).
Asked how a government-managed plan might differ from a typical reverse mortgage, Darling said a government plan would be specifically for funds to be used for home maintenance and health care costs.
Eighty percent of British Columbian seniors are home owners.