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?