June is Senior's Month – Time to Raise Awareness about their Concerns

June is Seniors’ Month in Ontario.  It’s a time to celebrate the contributions of our seniors and raise awareness about some of their concerns.  I have been blogging about “at risk” older adults and issues of concern to older women since 2008 when I first got involved with London area seniors’ organizations as a volunteer, consultant and project manager.

Over 55 is a local organization that offers affordable home and property services to London residents by linking them with older workers who provide the services.  When I was working with Over 55 London, we noted an increase in the number of older adults who were seeking a wider variety of income opportunities to supplement their retirement incomes. Yet, there was no funding available for the organization to establish or expand targeted programs to respond to the increased needs. With funding from Employment Ontario we were finally able to hire a team of researchers to observe and study some local, provincial and national trends.

Nearly 1.3 million workers in Ontario currently do not have access to any type of employer-sponsored workplace pension. In Canada’s private sector, only one person in five has a workplace pension. Should we fear a looming retirement income crisis? 2014 Toronto Star article.

Maybe so.

According to a 2014 Conference Board of Canada survey, the average age of retirement of those surveyed was 63.2 years of age. The report titled A Survey of Non-retirees and Retirees in Canada: Retirement Perspectives and Plans found over a third of respondents said they were uncertain when they would be able to exit the labour force. Of these, women (83.5 %) were more uncertain than men (69.8 %) regarding their planned future retirement. Nearly 19 % of respondents say they will never retire.

Here in London we are observing a similar trend with participants in the retirement workshops held at London Public Library branches. Each Fall and Spring, Creative Age London and the London Public Library co sponsor the Creative Retirement Planning Series. Approximately half of the participants have adequate corporate or public service pensions. They attend the library presentations to seek out new information about volunteering, hobbies and recreation.  However the other 50% want more information and targeted employment support services to help them earn extra money to supplement their retirement incomes.  This recent and local observation was also noted by the national survey.

In the previously mentioned Conference Board survey, almost 60 per cent of those on the cusp of retirement (55-64 years of age), and a little over 40 per cent of those aged 65+ reported that they have not put enough money aside to retire. Women and those with lower levels of household income were even less likely to have put money aside.

This increase in the number of at risk older women has also been noted by local social workers and front line service providers such as My Sisters Place. Many single women in our 2016 Creative Retirement Planning Workshops have told us they need earn $500 to $1,000 each month to supplement their inadequate retirement incomes just to maintain a basic, safe and healthy lifestyle.

I think it is incredibly important for local advocates and service providers to work together to launch targeted employment and preventive social wellness support programs for the growing number of older adults who need to continue to work on a full-time or part-time basis – long past the traditional age of retirement. It’s important to be proactive to avoid a retirement income crisis of our local older adults.

Kathy Smith is the founder and coordinator of the London Creative Age Network. She works with local organizations to develop programs to improve the quality of life for older adults in the community.