Column: Taking the pressure off ‘Generation Squeeze’

Canada is spending more public funds for boomers and seniors ($45,000 on average) but only $12,000 per person under 45.

I recently attended the 21st annual Conversation on Chilliwack’s Children, where service providers, community agencies, teachers, parents, and youth – among others – came together to discuss what Chilliwack can do the improve the lives of the children and youth who live here.

Lynell Anderson, senior family policy researcher with the University of BC’s Human Early Learning Project (HELP), delivered the afternoon keynote address entitled Opening a new door for Generation Squeeze.

According to Lynell and her research, Canada ranks poorly for investing in families with young children, and many Canadians are unaware of this. According to recent research, she said that Canada ranks decently on economic competitiveness and healthy aging, but declines in the areas of gender equality and family policy in early years. Her question was: How can we build a Canada that can support all those things? The challenge to this, she claims, is that the work we are doing by trying to keep the doors open – much like the doors of a house – is futile if we are ignorant to the weak foundation the house it sitting upon. This foundation, according to her and HELP, is the social and economic changes that have happened over the past 40 years, thus creating Generation Squeeze.

The story of Generation Squeeze goes something like this: Canada’s economy has doubled since 1976, which produces on average an extra $35,000 per household across the country, yet despite this economic growth:

• Wages for young people have actually dropped

• Real wages are down even though there is twice the participation rates in post-secondary education

• The cost of housing has increased, and it now takes three times as long to raise money for a housing down payment compared to 40 years ago

• Real household income has dropped slightly even though there are more women working and more educated individuals

• Add children into the mix and it worsens, especially since child care costs more than post-secondary education

This all leads to the squeeze for those under the age of 45 – squeezed for time at home, for services and for money (because of student debt, consumer debt and mortgage costs). A generation ago, this picture looked different. Changes in policy, including introducing universal health care and old age pension, led to the decrease in seniors’ poverty nearly to the point of elimination. Today, there is a different story for young families in poverty. Canada is spending more public funds for boomers and seniors ($45,000 on average) but only $12,000 per person under 45.

To close this generational spending gap, HELP is proposing that government introduce a new deal to eliminate poverty for families with young children by changing its spending per citizen.

They want to put Family back into Canadian values where we spend more time together, less on stuff. Some potential ideas for this include: new mom and dad benefits; 18 month maternity/parental leave; $10/day daycare, or free daycare  for those earning less than $40,000. According to the numbers, these changes would save the average family $50,000 in the first five years, and give parents more choices to work less than a 70-hour combined work week, pay off student debt, save more easily for a home, or grow an income.

For more information and/or to join: Gensqueeze.ca.

HELP’s research and the views Lynell Anderson expressed as part of her keynote are not the views of the ministry or the BC Government.

Eryn Wicker (M.A., RCC) is a mental health clinician with the Child and Youth Mental Health team with the Ministry of Children and family Development in Chilliwack, BC.