How do we make government budgets work once again for all generations? That’s what people ask me as UBC Prof, and founder of the Generation Squeeze campaign.
My answer is simple. Talk. Party. Act.
We all know housing prices have gone way up. For those who bought homes decades ago, higher housing prices mean more wealth.
But what’s been good for many retiring parents is generally bad for their kids and grandchildren. 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.
So far, governments have been slow to respond for younger generations. Each year they allocate just $12,000 on benefits and services per person under age 45, compared to around $45,000 per retiree.
This generational spending gap no longer works. So how do we change it so government budgets work once again for all generations?
My answer is simple. Talk. Party. Act.
Talk about Canada’s proud history of adapting social policy to address challenges facing entire generations. For example, far too many seniors struggled in the 1960s and 70s. In response, citizens voted for governments that built the Canada Public Pension plan and Old Age Security, along with Medical Care to ensure no one would go bankrupt when they wound up sick in a hospital. These policies account for much of the $45,000 that Canadian governments now spend each year per retiree, and they have dramatically reduced the economic pressures facing millions of seniors today compared to the past.
Talk more about how you, or your adult kids, are coping with lower wages and higher costs of living. The typical 25-34 year old now earns $20 an hour for full-time work, $4 less than in 1976 after adjusting for inflation. They earn less even though they are twice as likely to have post-secondary. With lower incomes and larger student debts, young people face housing prices that have skyrocketed. The average cost of housing in Greater Vancouver is now around $780,000. A generation ago, it was just $62,000 – or $240,000 in today’s dollars. Behold the burdens of Generation Squeeze!
Talking politics is important. But so is having fun. Social change has long been about both.
Think about the 60s and 70s. People were debating war, civil rights and gender equality, all in the middle of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll.’
Since we don’t have nearly as much fun talking politics these days, the Generation Squeeze Campaign is inviting people to Party across the province. In pubs, cafes, hotels, concert halls, parks, playgrounds and people’s homes. Over cocktails, or coffee, or a meal. Listening to music sometimes, even dancing.
While partying, we offer the chance to change what we know. People leave the parties knowing no one is personally responsible for lower wages or higher housing costs. That’s just bad timing. Bad luck. People also leave knowing that it’s okay to question whether we’ve done enough to adapt for younger generations, which is not obvious so long as governments spend only $12,000 per young person, compared to $45,000 for each retiree.
When we change what people know, we often change how they feel. Too many young people feel embarrassed that it now takes 15 years to save a 20 per cent down payment on an average home, when it used to take five years in 1976. Too many feel anxious that it is far harder to establish financial stability than did their parents at the same age a generation ago. But once we know about the Squeeze, many of us move from feeling shame to renewed confidence. Confident that the Squeeze is not a problem we cause alone, but it is a problem we can solve together.
That’s because changing what we feel often changes how we Act. Gen Squeeze Parties result in many people from all walks of life adding their voice in support of a better generational deal. One that safeguards the medical care and retirement security on which our aging loved ones depend, while also enabling younger generations to deal with the lower incomes, higher student debts, and far higher housing prices that currently compromise the families they have, or the families they may one day want.
Check out www.gensqueeze.ca for parties near your community. If you don’t see a date yet, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll come co-host the event together. Our goal is to hold many more events before May 14, when candidates from all political parties are listening especially carefully to your voices.
Talk. Party. Act. That’s how we can adapt for Gen Squeeze as we do for retirees. To make it affordable to start families, pay down student debt, and reduce by years the time it takes to save for a home.
Paul Kershaw is a UBC professor, and founder of the Generation Squeeze campaign.