Earlier this fall, Macleans Magazine published an article titled “Seniors and the Generational Spending Gap”. The cover photo depicted an elderly woman “making it rain” with all her spare $50s. Two Canadians 50+ who are supporters of Generation Squeeze responded to the way intergenerational issues were represented in the article. Martin Petter, the 71 year old retired vice-president of North Island College in B.C., was interviewed for and quoted in the story as an older Canadian thinking about intergenerational issues. After he read the Macleans article, here was his responseRead more
As I’ve watched the events in the Ukraine unfold, it has evoked the usual sense of anger and disappointment, but also of hope. After all, it all began when, in the face of autocratic and corrupt rulers, hundreds of thousands of passionate Ukrainians took to the streets to defend their young democracy. (See here and here for brief overviews of what’s happened in Ukraine.)
It’s also got me thinking about the state of our democracy. By many measures, Canada is one of the most successful, fair and prosperous democracies in the world. We should feel fortunate and proud about this. But it isn’t something that ‘just happened’. It is the result of a long and difficult evolution of our democratic institutions – important advances like free and fair elections, an independent justice system, and the creation of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Yet, we’re increasingly taking our democracy for granted. Voter turnout has steadily fallen and Canadians have been disengaging from politics. Younger Canada has been the quickest to tune out and stay home (Jane Hilderman has written about this for GenSqueeze). A result has been a willingness to stand idly by and allow the corrosion or neglect of the democratic institutions it has taken us centuries to build up.
The latest example is the Fair Elections Act (FEA), a law proposed by the federal Conservative Government. The Government’s objectives, laid out here, all sound quite noble: things like, limiting voter fraud, tightening election laws, and better enforcement against ‘robocalls’ and other violations.
The problem is, the Act – and the Government’s process in crafting it – threatens to undermine Canadian democracy in important ways.
Legal expert Yasmin Dawood, speaking at a forum at the University of Toronto last week, described the FEA as an effort at “partisan self-entrenchment.” In plain English, this means an elected government changing laws to improve its chances of winning future elections.
The FEA diminishes the role of Elections Canada, the non-partisan, arms-length body responsible for administering national elections and enforcing elections laws.
The Act eliminates ‘vouching’ and the use of voter information cards (VICs) – two methods that allow people without fixed residences or IDs with a current address to vote. Despite little evidence of voter fraud, these changes will be a barrier to voting for many Canadians such as the homeless, mobile young renters and students – groups that tend not to vote Conservative.
Third, the Act loosens election spending rules by exempting fundraising expenses, allowing parties and candidates to spend more during campaigns. This should benefit the party that is the best at fundraising, which happens to be…the Conservatives.
Just as troubling is the way these changes are being made. Because elected governments clearly have a vested interest in how elections work, they have traditionally appointed non-partisan, independent commissions to propose reforms and consult with citizens, civic groups and experts on the proposals. This hasn’t been the case with the FEA.
Now, if all these issues sound arcane and technical, it’s because they are (for more on the FEA, see here or here). And safe to say that it’s pretty tough to get fired up about electoral reform on the best of days. But the reforms have sparked some fierce resistance.
Lead Now, a younger-Canadian led activist group, have launched a petition campaign that has 60,000 signatures. A long list of Canadian scholars have voiced their opposition. Experts from countries including the US, UK, Australia and Denmark also published an open letter expressing their concern “that Canada’s international reputation as one of the world’s guardians of democracy and human rights is threatened by passage of the proposed Fair Elections Act.” (It is frankly both stunning and embarrassing that we’d need foreigners to sound the alarm bells for us like this.)
In closing, I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting the implications of the FEA are in any way comparable to what’s been happening in the Ukraine. They aren’t.
But the Act is anti-democratic and against the spirit of free and fair participation. That the Government had the nerve to table it also plainly shows the extent to which they believe we are tuned out and taking our democracy for granted. They certainly didn’t believe Canadians would hit the streets in protest.
There is a clear lesson for us: maintaining the democracy we’ve built requires an engaged and active citizenry. It’s an ongoing project. We in Younger Canada might have legitimate beef with the state of our politic and how we’re being represented. But we also have an obligation, as the fortunate citizens in a free and open society, to protect and build upon the democratic institutions we have.
At a time when newspapers and traditional news media are facing an alarming decline, the black sheep of the family has been bucking the trend. And they’re doing it by attracting the most sought-after and elusive audience: 20- and 30-somethings.
For the past two decades, Vice Media – the magazine, website, film production company, record label and publishing house – has managed to surprise, repulse, shock and entertain with niche, pop culture stories. But more recently, Vice has been making headway with its investigative news content – gaining access to some of the world’s most dangerous environments through a rough-and-ready, DIY, cowboy style of video journalism.
The debate rages about who exactly the new millennials are and what they want (are we civic-minded or selfish; evolved or immature?). We do know that rather than buying the paper or watching the six o’clock news, the younger generation is using Twitter and other social media to curate their own news feed on their own time.
As a result, competition for online readership is intense, and slick video content is becoming increasingly vital for attracting eyeballs. Top players like the New York Times are investing in skillfully produced videos, an area in which Vice Media flourishes.
Vice generates, on average, 60 minutes of video content per day. And its editors have made a science out of obscure and enticing headlines with recent titles like: “I Escaped Death in an Egyptian Police Van but Witnessed an Attempted Rape” and “Meet the Gay Russian Teenager Using Twitter to Combat Homophobia.” This past April, Vice and HBO premiered a documentary TV series – an investigative news show that covers the underbelly of culture in places around the world, with hosts that could easily be mistaken for your local bartender rather than your typical TV reporter.
Vice’s recent growth has been stunning. In 2013, Vice.com was visited by 15 million unique readers a month, the majority of which were between the ages of 26 to 30. Their visibility continues to grow – as do their profits. With huge injections of money from advertising giants looking to capitalize on their success, Vice continues to offer a free magazine that has circulation in 28 countries, a website with free online video content, and a YouTube channel that has over 3.2 million subscribers.
Meanwhile, major Canadian newspapers are bleeding, forced to shed staff through lay-offs, payouts, and the closing down of their foreign bureaus. Without their own reporters on the ground, editors for these major newspapers are forced to rely on independent (often underpaid and uninsured) freelancers to get their stories. When that proves to be too expensive or time consuming, they use stories that come straight from news wires like Reuters, instead of maintaining exclusive content and breaking the news themselves.
The financial crunch felt by these publications has also meant that in the past year, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and the National Post, are among the growing number of news websites who have elected to introduce pay-walls, limiting free access to their online content by charging subscription fees, and creating another hurdle in the race to gain young readership.
What’s Vice’s secret? Simple: they do news differently. Vice’s informal, off-the-cuff form of “immersive” journalism, with its accessible language and bizarre content, exists in sharp contrast to the dry, stilted style of a traditional news storytelling. Vice reporters survey the scene to draw out the most peculiar, funny and often horrifying stories that major media cannot or simply do not bother to cover. Highly-publicized recent examples include videos like the “Basketball Diplomacy” featuring Dennis Rodman and North Korean “supreme leader” Kim Jong-un, and “Chinese Cockblock” about China’s one-child policy.
The credibility of Vice’s content and journalistic approach will continue to be debated. But its growing influence and reach shows no signs of waning. For now, Vice holds the attention of the youngest generation – a powerful asset within an industry where the future is very uncertain. Like it or not, this black sheep is getting a lot of attention.
Raja Moussaoui trained as an architect and is a freelance journalist and designer. Find her at http://rajamoussaouiworks.com/ or @RajaMoussaoui.
Look, I’m considering it. I know that you can’t outrun biology, and all the health outcomes are tipped in your favour if you have a baby sooner rather than later. But our generation is getting a raw deal with child-bearing, and I can’t help factoring that into the decision.
I am one of the lucky few that has a good, full-time job, but I don’t have maternity benefits – in fact, out of women employed before they became pregnant, only 1 in 5 have employer top-up for maternity. So I would have to rely on our EI system. If I take baby leave (17 weeks for maternity and 35 weeks for parental leave), my income will be decimated at a time when I will have greater expenses than ever. EI only gives 55% of income up to a max income of $47,400 (a maximum of $26,000, and that’s taxable). And child care costs will continue the wreckage to the tune of $25k a year for an infant, and about $15k for a toddler.
Our EI program for maternity leave is incredibly out of touch with Canada’s modern families. When maternity pay through EI was introduced in 1971, by and large, women weren’t the breadwinners. Only about 8% of women in the 70s were primary earners. But now? The growing number of women who earn the majority of their household income account for 31% of Canadian households, and that number is climbing as more women achieve higher education.
So now, if a woman breadwinner becomes pregnant, the family suffers a much bigger drop in income when they have a child. Consider this example: A couple I know recently had a baby. She makes $50,000 a year, and he makes $35,000 - $85,000 total. When she took maternity leave, their income dropped to about $60,000 – a difference of $25,000. If she made the smaller salary, the difference in income would have been between $10,000-15,000. That’s a big hit not just to the woman, but to the whole family.
Sure, we can do the math and say that her husband could stay at home for some of that year, but the reality is that only mothers are entitled to the first 17 weeks of maternity leave, and it’s realistic to expect that they will take some portion of the parental leave too.
So this isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s an issue for any would-be modern family.
Our EI program presumes that your male partner is the breadwinner, and it provides a maximum amount barely above poverty levels. It doesn’t account for different types of family composition, and it certainly doesn’t account for the dramatic drop in income it’s creating for families with female breadwinners.
Maybe that model worked back when it was first introduced, but it certainly doesn’t work for a two-income household with a pregnant woman bringing home the bacon, and it definitely doesn’t work for the growing number of women who are self-employed, or working contract to contract, and don’t qualify for an EI program that has ever-shrinking eligibility rules. If you’re self-employed, you have to pay into an EI fund for 12 months to get any benefits.
Research shows that as women are more educated and earn higher salaries, the opportunity cost for them to have children grows. And it’s not likely that women are going to become less educated over time. We need to make child-bearing less of an economic tradeoff for families.
Gen Squeeze has a plan to give families a new deal – one that would extend leave policies for a total of 18 months, and provide benefits of 80% earnings up to $60,000.
It would also take the benefit system for new parents out of the EI system, so all new parents can qualify for a minimum benefit close to today’s maximum, around $23k regardless of their employment ties.
That’s a deal that also aims to build $10/day daycare – the current $100 per month cheque introduced by the federal government is woefully short of costs (you’re about 15 grand short, Steve), and isn’t actually tied to day care.
All we want is a chance to start a family, but with less time, more debt, and more responsibility, what seemed like a joyful choice becomes a heavy economic burden. Surely all the boomers in provincial and federal governments can relate to millions of prospective grandparents in Canada. Do they really want a childless Canada? By ignoring maternity and child care issues for our generations, they’re asking for it.
Okay, maybe the basement part is true for my mother, but you get the point. It seems far-fetched to imagine my parents wanting a terrible future for their children. So why do we hear so often that the boomers ruined our future?
“Blame the boomers” is the angry cry of our generation. We’re dealing now with the consequences of short-sighted decisions (or no decisions at all) on financial markets, increasing inequality, climate change, and more. The boomers at the top of the food chain made some self-serving choices, and frankly, continue to do so in many cases. We’re poised to inherit a mess, a net loss, a quagmire of epic proportions. And maybe there's opportunity in that crisis - but make no mistake, it's a crisis.
But did dear old mom and dad have it out for us? Somehow, I don't think they intended to sell me down the river. I think we've all been had.
Average families have been squeezed for years now, needing two income earners to make a decent living because wages have been stagnant for 30 years as more money stayed at the top of the corporate ladder. Good pension plans are disappearing. Job security is becoming a thing of the past. It takes 10 years longer than our parents to save for a down payment.
We can blame the boomers all we want. But remember, the system worked for them. It's understandable that our parents thought that their children could enjoy the same standard of living if they followed the rules.
The problem is that the game has changed, and the deck is stacked against us now. We will have to fight for our future. But it’s a challenge for all generations, not just ours.
My dad worked at a mill for almost 30 years and his pension security is constantly on the rocks. My mom, at the age of 61, is in the same situation as many Gen X and Ys, working two part-time jobs - but in her case, it's to make a living before she reaches official retirement age.
So I'm not in the mood to tell them they're responsible for my problems. They helped me go to university and get a degree, which was supposed to be my golden ticket. But then I needed another degree to get a better job because my old salary wasn't paying the bills. And along with it came $35k in student debt. I'm sure my lifetime earnings will now be better, but I was taking on debt at the time in my life at exactly the time my parents were starting a family and buying a house.
So it’s clear that someone's breaking the deal, but it's not me, my mom, or my dad – your average middle-class Canadians. If we’re going to have constructive conversation about generational equity and the challenges we face, let’s at least start there.
My hat goes off to all hard-working parents, past and present. They raise kids with love, joy, sacrifice and frustration. My parents did.
Still, the facts show that families raising young kids today are squeezed for time, income and services to a degree that is more constraining than a generation ago. Surprisingly, the Fraser Institute alleged otherwise last week, claiming “It’s never been easier, financially, to raise children in Canada.”
There are millions of parents who wish the Institute were right. So do many young people who delay starting families. Alas, wishing doesn’t make it so. Here’s what is weighing down younger generations.
We all know housing prices have increased substantially. For those who bought homes decades ago, higher housing prices mean more wealth. But what’s been good for retiring parents is generally bad for their kids. High home prices squeeze generations under age 45 with crushing debt, which they must pay with wages that have fallen compared to a generation ago, and in jobs that rarely contribute pensions.
Gens X and Y have adapted. To compete for better employment, they squeeze in years more of education and tuition. To buy a place, they accept jobs or contracts that require years more of work to save a down payment. And for many, this means they wait years longer to establish their financial independence.
Seeing their adult kids caught between time and money pressures, many Boomers also adapt. They invite their kids to live at home longer, support the cost of post-secondary education, contribute to a down payment, etc.
Even with all this personal adaptation, most in Gen X and Y can’t work their way out of the time and income squeeze when they start families. Since two earners bring home little more today than what one breadwinner often did in the 1970s, we’ve gone from 40 hour work weeks to closer to 80 hours. The result? Generations raising young kids are squeezed for time at home. They are squeezed for income because housing prices are nearly double, even though young people often live in condos, or trade yards for time-consuming commutes. And they are squeezed for services like child care, which are essential for many parents to deal with rising costs, but are in short supply, and often cost more than university.
The Fraser Institute study excludes these realities from its analysis. It includes NO comparative data from different time periods. So it offers no evidence with which to answer the question “is it financially easier to raise kids now compared to the past?”
The study actually addresses a different issue: what does it cost to raise a child today? The author calculates the cost is between $3,000 and $4,500 a year. He generally excludes what parents pay for housing and child care services. I’ll leave readers to assess whether they think this estimate is realistic.
All should ask, however, why does the Fraser Institute dismiss the reality that younger generations are more squeezed now than in the past? Many will know the Institute is skeptical about the value of government investment. But Gens X, Y and their kids are not the primary beneficiary of social spending. Governments spend around $45,000 a year per retiree in Canada, mostly on health care, pensions and retirement income subsidies. This spending is nearly four times larger than government spending per younger Canadian. Grade school, post-secondary, health care, child care, parental leave, EI and workers compensation all combine for a total of around $12,000 annually per person under age 45.
Younger Canadians already face a generational imbalance in government spending on top of their worsening wages relative to housing costs. By discounting the time, income and service squeeze on younger generations, the Fraser Institute distracts attention away from this imbalance. Fortunately, there are Canadians of all ages across the country who believe younger generations deserve a better deal. Find them at www.gensqueeze.ca.
Dr. Paul Kershaw is a professor at the University of BC, and the Founder of the Generation Squeeze campaign (gensqueeze.ca; @gensqueeze).
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