Daphne Bramham of the Vancouver Sun has taken a look at the census poverty figures that Andy Yan, Director of  the City Program at Simon Fraser University has been extrapolating. As Daphne observes “Women face economic disadvantages throughout their lifetimes, but it is near the end of their lives that it is most acute. Nowhere is that more evident than in Metro Vancouver, which has Canada’s highest percentage of people living in low-income households. The 2016 census data for the region indicates that the percentage of women living in low-income households is 7.5-per-cent higher than men. But past the age of 65? The percentage of poor women jumps to 15.8 per cent.”
Why are there almost 16 per cent of older women in low-income households? Andy Yan calls this “structural patriarchy“, and that age and gender must be factored in to analyses. Women do live longer and earn 25 per cent less working than men. Women leave the workplace to have kids and have less pension plan and retirement plan contributions.  “Among the oldest of today’s seniors, married women were much less likely to have done paid work outside the home, while the high mortality rates during the Second World War meant many women never married.”
Across Metro Vancouver 17.6 per cent of poor senior citizens are women compared to 15.2 per cent of men. In Langley one in four senior women are poor. The low-income”threshold” is an after tax income of $22,133 for a single person or $31,201 for a couple. The City of Vancouver has the highest concentration of poor seniors with 19,115 persons living below the low income threshold. In Chinatown Gastown and the Downtown Eastside, “71 per cent of poor seniors are women.”
What this means is that between 2005 and 2015 the percentage of low-income seniors has increased by an average of 22 per cent. This was also the time that there was a reduction of public services spending due to tax cuts.  Daphne Bramham notes that  Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement are now only 60 per cent of median income compared to 76 per cent in 1980. By looking at these factors, Provincial and municipal  governments can ascertain the need for affordable housing, accessible transit, and an increase in seniors’ community centre programming, home care and residential care for this group. In 14 years Statistics Canada expects that there will be 9.6 million seniors, “of those, 5.1 million will be women, accounting for nearly a quarter of the total female population.” There needs to be a major change in how we structure universal accessibility on streets for this population of walkers and transit users, and how we provide adequate and appropriate housing and amenities. Can Metro Vancouver adapt for this tsunami of seniors and their needs?


  1. Can Metro Vancouver adapt for this tsunami of seniors and their needs?
    I doubt it. The annual crop of retirees will feature the following characteristics.
    1. More people retiring without a company pension plan relying only on inadequate
    government sponsored CPP/OAS.
    2. More people retiring without a paid for home, carrying debt into retirement
    3. More people retiring as lifelong renters, with little or no net worth
    4. More people experiencing post retirement bankruptcy
    5. More people living longer, with expensive health care costs without the necessary
    financial safeguards in place.
    The fastest growing demographic in Canada is people over the age of 100. Senior bankruptcy is skyrocketing, and society has not adjusted to a world where the majority of people do not have a quality pension. When all of these factors come together we will turn to the smaller demographic of workers who come along, with their student debt, enormous mortgages and compromised career prospects and ask them to pay outrageous taxes. Then the intergenerational war will be on in earnest.

  2. This issue will create some profound effects on our society. Change is on the way. However, until the Boomers start requiring use of the healthcare system en masse there is some time left yet to deal with the repercussions on the safety net and the economy from a public policy standpoint.
    One way is to increase the annual immigration levels moderately but enough to ensure that a certain minimum level of workers / taxpayers can still support each elder. The ratio is currently about 4:1. It’s usually the second generation of immigrants who start to out-prosper their parents. There are now several research references out there that indicate that a denser population base in our largest cities fosters higher productivity and opportunity. Even now Canada’s six largest cities, still surrounded by inefficient sprawl, provide half the nation’s wealth, out competing all combined extracted and shipped natural resources by 2.5 times.
    Another way would be to make it easier for new parents to re-enter the realm of the employed by providing decent, affordable universal daycare. Salaries that remain unpaid because stay-at-home who parents cannot afford daycare are also taxes that remain unpaid and economic multipliers that remain absent.
    There is a call in some quarters to accommodate greater number of immigrants by urbanizing the inefficient suburbs with greater housing choice (sound familiar?)catalyzed by high-capacity, frequent, electric rail-based transit. The single-family detached home on large lots accessed almost exclusively by the private car presents the greatest challenge (and opportunity) to densify with residential infill and new town centres teeming with jobs and occupied office and manufacturing floor space, thus increasing economic activity within the boundaries of a given urban geography, and therein providing the basis to create walkable neighbourhoods where services and amenities (like day care, shopping, employment, medical services, senior’s centres, etc.), and lowering per-capita emissions by supplanting almost half of our fossil fuel use with electricity in transportation and home heating.
    Many of us take a keen interest in the urban design elements and models used to achieve that, with an eye to increase the quality of life and establish a larger share of the human scale in the urban experience. One of the many design requirements would be to address ageing in place in each community. Another would be to relegate the car to second class citizenship with deep cut-backs to the public financial and land resources devoted to this egregiously inefficient form of mobility.
    Keith makes some poignant observations on senior’s poverty. Not all of the points can be fully addressed by public policy, though (except for things like increasing the level of mandatory CPP premiums) and much of it gets down to personal choices, including a lack of planning and an abundance of procrastination to deal with it, some having preferred to spend on unnecessary overseas trips and additional cars instead of saving for retirement. Having said that, there is no pension plan for homemakers, and our still annoyingly patriarchal society keeps it that way.
    Two of the nation’s four main exurban-surrounded cities have an housing affordability crisis. The GTA and Metro Vancouver are where multiple levels of government need to come together and build thousands of non-profit rental housing units, some perhaps self-managed like co-ops, with a proportion designed specifically for families, seniors and subsidized units for people with disabilities. There has to be a counter-weight to the real estate market juggernaut fueled by a land shortage, foreign money and speculation.

    1. We need to distinguish between seniors with massive equity in their paid off houses or condos and those without equity. Many seniors are millionaires but untrained in how to use this equity in the house. See my comments below. Only a very small % of Canada’s population is very poor, ie low income and no equity. With OAS and CPP even those usually make over $1000/month. Unlike most nations incl EU and USA Canada’s CPP actually has real assets to the tune of several hundred billion $s and as such we are in pretty good shape as a nation, mainly due to the fair conservative nature of our Liberal PMs Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin who set this up.

  3. much of it gets down to personal choices, including a lack of planning and an abundance of procrastination to deal with it, some having preferred to spend on unnecessary overseas trips and additional cars instead of saving for retirement. 
    Somehow whenever poverty is discussed – much less debt – it always winds up with some one blaming the victim. The reek of holier than thou superiority is overwhelming. *
    My mother spent her entire adult life at home, raising kids, not working. That was the role that she was expected to play, with a promise – perhaps unstated – that she would be be cared for by the breadwinner in the family.
    When my father died, leaving next to nothing in either savings or pension, she managed to get by on the pension that our beneficent federal government allowed her. Eventually she sold the big family home and bought a newly renovated small bungalow. Cash money, no mortgage, and no foreseeable need for expensive maintenance.
    What she didn’t forsee was that over the next three decades her cost of living – mostly utilities and food – would climb constantly, but her government pension income would remain more or less flatlined. Each year hydro and food costs climbed higher, but her pension was unlikely to increase by more than few dollars. Eventually she reached the point here it was impossible for her to stay in her own home, not because of disability, but because she couldn’t pay the bills.
    She did EVERYTHING right, followed the rules and advice, and made smart choices. She doesn’t travel, doesn’t drink or smoke, and cable TV is her only luxury.
    Successive governments have reduced her only source of income from “comfortable” to “impoverished.”
    She is not alone. Single women of her generation are significantly more likely to live in abject poverty, not because they made poor choices, not because they have frivolous lifestyles, but because out governments have decided that they should be forced into poverty.
    It is time that we stopped looking down our noses at people without pension plans and RRSPs, and accept that a large portion of the population will have no choice but to rely on CPP/OAS for their sole income when they have to stop working. Regardless of why they find themselves in this situation we, as a society, need to step up to the plate and provide a realistic income for each of these people.
    Those people fortunate enough to have a company pension should understand that they are the lucky few, that most employers don’t offer that to their employees – especially when so many people work part time or on-call for increasingly declining wages. Those people – and they really are a small minority – who have managed to save a substantial amount in an RRSP should acknowledge that many, many people aren’t paid enough to accumulate significant savings. If your rent consumes 50% of your income it’s likely that other fixed living expenses will gobble up most of the rest of it. Add in the cost of dental care and other medical treatments that our provincial plans don’t pay for and the person making $15 an hour, or even twice that amount, isn’t going to have much left over to save for retirement.
    The crisis that we’re heading into isn’t about healthcare, it’s about having a signifcant proportion of the population of Canada living in poverty for decades until they all die off.
    * (I acknowledge Alex’s further comment “Having said that, there is no pension plan for homemakers, and our still annoyingly patriarchal society keeps it that way.” Which somewhat acknowledges my point. )

    1. Why doesn’t she get a LOC or reverse mortgage on her house as presumably that little bungalow is worth far more today than 20+ years ago ? Like many seniors she is asset rich but cash poor. Help her understand to turn the equity in her house into an investment vehicle or a source of cash to fund a better life style !
      For example, if you borrow $500,000 at prime against the house that costs her $16,000/yr but if she invests the $500,000 into a basket of dividend paying stocks or REITs she could get 6% easily or $30,000/yr and that difference between cost of borrowing and investment would give her more than $1000/month to spend. Plus increase the LOC by $1000/month to be paid back only when bungalow sells ( or when she dies) will give her another $10000 ie now over $2000/month by using the equity in her house ( I assume for now that bungalow is worth more than $1M ).
      Why does she leave all this equity to her kids and not use some of it, say 50-75% for today’s’ needs ?

  4. Okay, Barry, let me respond firstly be saying that I think you have misinterpreted – grossly, I have to add – one sentence in my comments. “Looking down their nose….”, that is just way over the top, and appropriates and twists the very point I was making.
    This is puzzling because when I mentioned that SOME people (i.e. not ALL people) make poor choices when it comes to planning for their sunset years, I was thinking of certain family members and friends. My mother’s experience was similar to yours, with the exception that she sold the house when housing was very affordable after a divorce in 1971 and quickly spent the money, and suffered greatly for it first when she was laid off from a menial job during a downturn in the 80s (just before senior citizenship), and much later when she lost her independence and spent 12 years suffering in continuing care with terrible food. Had she took the advice freely given to her in the 70s, she would have hung on to the low-mortgage house (easily maintained by through just a part-time job back then) and watched its value grow exponentially and used the money from its sale decades later to finance her care in a better facility.
    I have also known quite a few healthy, able-bodied artistes, some with PhDs, who felt the world owed them a living and actively sought things like subsidized housing from a very limited supply (note, this supply is completely divorced from the superheated housing and rental market) with extraordinarily long waiting lists filled with families that have far greater needs. How many co-op housing members have Gulf Island acreages, or are single and occupy 2-bedroom units? You’d be surprised.
    The majority of the poor end up there often through no fault of their own, and their circumstances may come from either a tragic history or a moderate decline in income over a long time, making the net loss great by old age. But the few who seek coddling and public cushioning from the impact of their own uninformed and sometimes selfish choices are taking the exceedingly limited resources from those who truly deserve them.

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