Old age is a good thing
Ageism is rampant as certain groups in our society seek to foment intergenerational resentments.
The Baby Boom generation gets it coming and going. If they keep their jobs and pay higher taxes and Canada Pension Plan contributions, they’re condemned as selfishly holding onto their jobs and blocking the career advancement of members of younger generations. If they are downsized or persuaded to go into early retirement, they are damned as “lazy, over-privileged, selfish, entitled Boomers living off the system and relying on over-worked younger people to pay into medicare, CPP and OAS for them,” in the phrasing of many centre-right media outlets and often-cited right-wing think tanks. The Boomers can’t win.
Corporate leaders automate jobs or ship them overseas. When the youth unemployment rate rises, they or pundits in the mainstream media direct blame to the Boomers. Articles are written about how students in their early 20s are wondering if the Boomers will ever retire to make way for younger people or if they will hold onto their jobs longer than any other generation in history; there is hand-wringing about the newly retired outnumbering the newly hired (“Demographics,” by Joe Friesen, The Globe and Mail, Feb. 18).
In fact, if all the Boomers in the work force were to retire tomorrow, many would be replaced not by young people succeeding to their full-time positions, but by part-timers with few benefits. Other jobs formerly held by Boomers would be automated or outsourced. Some of the newly vacant positions would simply not be filled as remaining workers would be expected to take over the duties of those who had resigned or retired.
In 2010 a parliamentary budget officer reported that seniors are a burden on society because they no longer pay taxes but just drain tax resources. This is the constant drumbeat. “Think how it must feel, then, if the message seniors more and more frequently hear in the media is that they are an intolerable budgetary burden,” wrote the late history professor Theodore Roszak in his book Longevity Revolution: As Boomers Become Elders (2001).
Contrary to what the doomsayers contend, older people pay taxes on their income, pensions, annuities and other revenue sources, and the longer they live the longer they pay, gerontologist Lillian Zimmerman observes in a column in the Sept. 19, 2011, Globe and Mail. They provide free baby-sitting for grandchildren, volunteer extensively in their communities, and provide financial help to their sons and daughters in their 20s who have trouble finding permanent jobs in our globalization-oriented economy, according to Roszak.
“It’s been conservatively estimated that the time, energy and money that older Canadians contribute to the economy may reach $5 billion annually, and that our public services would have to be substantially enlarged without their contributions,” notes Zimmerman, long-time associate of the Gerontology Research Centre at Simon Fraser University. “It’s past time to stop painting pictures of older Canadians as draining our economy and start reflecting the positive realities of their lives.”
The fact that more people are living longer in good health should be regarded not as a sign of future economic disaster but as a triumph of medical science and the social programs of a decent society, Roszak argued. “The total benefits of longevity – cultural, ethical, and even economic, the gains it brings us in wisdom, compassion and spiritual fulfilment – may far outbalance” the costs, he wrote hopefully.
“The cruelest tactic used by the anti-entitlements campaign has been that of pitting young against old in generational conflict,” Roszak concluded.
“Boomers are no more responsible for mortgaging the future of the young than blacks are for the loss of poor whites’ jobs, or women for the loss of men’s jobs,” Eric Utne, founder of Utne Reader magazine, notes in a recent editorial in that publication based in Minnesota. “The Haves (the One Percenters) will always try to turn different segments of the 99 per cent against each other,” he adds, referring to the terminology of Occupy Wall Street representatives. “That’s how they hold onto their power, even as the System itself runs increasingly out of anyone’s control.”
His advice is well worth serious consideration.