When the retirement age was first conjured up, along with public pensions and other government supports for seniors, people weren’t actually expected to live that long once they stopped working.
In 1965, the year Lester B. Pearson’s government introduced the Canada Pension Plan, the average life expectancy was 71.66 years. The typical retiree might only collect CPP for five or 10 years, total.
Our life expectancy today is more than 81 years – a full 10 years more than it was when our pension plans were created. With modern medical care, from cancer treatments to joint surgery to blood pressure medication, we’re healthier into our golden years than our grandparents or great-grandparents were.
Even B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, on a recent visit to Langley, noted that it is likely people will have to begin working longer so we can pay for everyone’s retirement.
Mackenzie also noted the flip side of the pension conundrum – it’s not just that we are living longer, it’s that we find stable work much later in life.
The jobs that generations coming of age in the 1950s to 1970s found were often attained with a high-school degree. Now, almost every job requires significant post-secondary education and training. A more fractured and fragile job market often means years of part-time work, internships, layoffs, and low-wage employment before long-term stability ensues. And, of course, for some people, it never does.
Asking everyone to work longer – maybe to age 70 – isn’t going to be popular.
It’s also deeply unfair considering the breadth of different types of work people undertake.
There’s a big difference between asking someone who works in an office typing at a keyboard most of their day to work until they turn 68 or 70 years old, and asking the same of someone doing physical labour, in a warehouse, a factory, or on an outdoor construction site.
If we reform retirement, we need to take account of the fact that not all jobs are equal, and that means more than pay. Some jobs take a much deeper toll on the workers physically than others.
Ensuring that our pension system is stable has to be done while ensuring that we aren’t asking people who have worked hard all their lives to injure or wear themselves out in what should be their golden years.