Color & Control:

Seniors are not the problem…

…They are part of the solution

By John Muscedere and John Puxty

During the pandemic, COVID-19 has framed older Canadians as frail and vulnerable–for good reason. Older adults have been hit particularly hard, accounting for the majority of those suffering from serious illness and death. Fear of COVID-19 contagion continues to impact seniors far more than most other Canadians, forcing many of them into stricter lockdown measures for their own health and safety.

What’s forgotten in the focus on keeping seniors safe is that older adults aren’t solely vulnerable and reliant. Many contribute greatly to our economy and to our society. In fact, Canada’s older adults should not only be seen as victims of COVID-19, but also as a resource to help society recover from it.

Still on the job
This is shown in the statistics of seniors who remain actively working. The employment rate of seniors in the Canadian labour force has more than doubled since 2000. In 2015, one in five Canadians aged 65 and older, or nearly 1.1 million seniors, reported working during the year. In 2018, Stats Canada reported that 28.4 per cent of Canadians 60 and older who reported working as their major activity were self-employed.

More seniors now hold post-secondary degrees than in the past which seems to keep them working longer. Older Canadians with at least a bachelor’s degree were almost two times more likely to continue working after the age of 65 than those with a high school diploma.

It’s important to note, however, that sometimes seniors are still in the workforce because they cannot afford to retire and not because they choose to continue to work. Case in point, employment income was the main source of income for 43.8 per cent of seniors who were working in 2015. As one might expect, those without private pensions—something that’s declined over the past 30 years—are 1.5 times more likely to continue working than those seniors with private pensions. 

A sizable contribution
It’s not just through their employment and the taxes that they continue to pay while working that seniors contribute to the growth of the Canadian economy. Seniors are also committed to giving back, volunteering and building their communities. They provide a wealth of knowledge along with beneficial experience and valuable talent and skills. Today, seniors are responsible for one in five volunteer hours given to non-profits and charities. With Volunteer Canada valuing a volunteer hour at $27, this means seniors are providing upwards of $10.9 billion of unpaid work to the Canadian economy annually. And, seniors are not only generous with their time but also with their money. In 2017, Canadian seniors provided 42 per cent of all donations to charities, totaling over $4 billion. This is close to 50 per cent of all charitable donations in Canada.

Caring for others
Almost one-quarter of Canadian seniors aged 65 years and older are also caregivers. In 2018, 1.5 million of the 7.8 million Canadian caregivers were aged  65 years and older. During the pandemic, seniors have also stepped up to run food bank drives, deliver groceries, drive others to appointments, make sure their neighbours aren’t isolated, and volunteered to assist those more vulnerable, regardless of their age. Also, some seniors, such as doctors and nurses, have even come out of retirement to lend a hand.

All of this generosity and employment activity doesn’t just have benefits for our economy and society. By keeping active and engaged through paid or charitable work, research shows seniors receive sizeable benefits to their own health and well-being.

A one-sided view of all older Canadians as frail and vulnerable does not accurately portray the vast majority of Canada’s 6.8 million seniors. They have a lifetime of experience to contribute and energy to share.

Talent to spare
Moving forward, it’s perhaps wise advice for the powers that be, and the population at large, to recognize the contribution potential Canada has in its senior population and tap into their expertise.

John Muscedere is CEO of the Canadian Frailty Network and a Professor in the School of Medicine at Queen’s University.

John Puxty is the Director of the Centre for Studies in Aging and Health at Providence Care and an Associate Professor in the School of Medicine at Queen’s University.

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