WHO ARE THE GIVERS AND WHO THE TAKERS AMONG OLDER CANADIANS?

In April, 2013 I have an op-ed piece published in the Vancouver Sun titled “Let’s take the tarnish off the Golden Years.”  I voiced my objection to all the negativity surrounding population aging – something I have written about in a previous blog.

I mentioned a number of downbeat attitudes towards people who are living longer, claiming that we are immersed in numerous negative conceptions about getting older. Our popular culture including media, language, cartoons, TV and humour are replete with negative concepts.  We are told that population aging is a crisis which threatens our very economy; the media, especially TV constantly provides images of confused older people, featuring ads for dental adhesives, incontinent products, arthritis remedies etc. Language includes terms like “greedy geezers” meaning older people who are robbing their children by their spending, thus ensuring the next generations will live in penury.

We hear of having a”seniors’ moment” whatever that is. We listen to jokes about older people who, when asked their age, hesitate and reply “Do you have to know right now?” There’s a knee-slapper for you!  We look at cartoons of older people featuring wizened and confused elders who can’t remember where they live.

I term all this negativity a “culture of loss” which is ageist in its assumption that we all decline as soon as we reach age 65, and immerses all of us in the expectation  of decrepitude as we age.  This is not my experience as an octogenarian. I and numbers of peers are living productive and confident lives, thoroughly engaged in our communities.                 I want to establish a strong case for how older Canadians are contributing to a “culture of gains.”

I am looking for anecdotes about persons 75 and older who are using their new found longevity to live their lives in different ways, perhaps re-inventing themselves as workers, professionals or as family members or volunteers.  The Globe and Mail had a story on June 12/13 about a Nova Scotia man at age 77 who bought a large apple farm.  He had worked 30 years for his municipality, suffered all the slings and arrows life hurled at him including bankruptcy, was tired with waiting for something to happen and bought the farm, which now provides considerable employment to others.  He is hoping it will make a profit in 5 years which is when he will be 82.

If you know any older person who has either re-invented themselves or established themselves differently to what they were before, or found new ways to do their previous work, please tell me.  My object is to overcome the mainly negative crisis view of old age immersing us, by viewing older people as needy and takers. I want to  inform the world that there are many, many 75 years and older who are “givers” in numerous productive ways and not sitting around with outstretched hands. ( if you choose to be anonymous that’s fine).

 

 

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DOES ANYBODY OUT THERE ENJOY BEING OLDER?

I am addressing this question to anyone in Blogville who feels as I do that there is too much emphasis on aging as a “bad” thing.  One gets weary of media pundits and others who focus almost incessantly on how an aging population is a threat.  They suggest this will mean economic collapse at worst, or at best, stringent tightening of our valued medicare and public pensions as we now know them.  We are all dizzy with the constant repetition that in Canada we have achieved remarkable longevity with women now living to be 83 years and men to 78 years.  By the year 2031 our aging population will rise from 13% to 25%, at which time we are told we’ll all fall over the longevity cliff.

Some of these concerns are valid. There is no doubt that adjustments and efficiencies will have to be carefully considered and planned.  Not that there is a paucity of  helpful ideas from critical economists and other experts.  For e.g. Dr. Robert Brown, a Canadian academic and pension expert wrote in the Vancouver Sun Dec.19/12, regarding the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) that “…the plan is sustainable for the next 75 years with the current contribution rate of 9.9 per cent.”  He also finds that “Population aging by itself, will increase health care costs by about one percent per annum.” His findings are consistent with others who have felt the same since at least 2002 by such economists as Mendelssohn and Divinsky.  Other Canadian critics who feel similarly include Drs. Robert Evans, Morris Barer and Michael Rachlis to name only a few who aim to lessen the threat zeitgeist.

However, it is  not public policy that is my only focus just now.  As an octogenarian I find the negative views of aging fails markedly to look at positive aspects.  The emphasis is usually on decline and disease.  Little attention is paid to – dare I say it?- the joys of being older.  Yes, of course, aging can be a challenge specially for those are in poor health or have insufficient funds.  Most older persons have chronic health problems which are manageable, thanks to medical achievements which has also made our longevity possible.

So I am asking any older readers to let me know what their positive experiences of aging are.  What makes you feel good?  What do you enjoy about being older?  What personal strengths do you have that you didn’t have before, such as confidence and self-respect? Do you find unexpected rewards?  What makes you proud to be an older person?  The late Betty Friedan wrote in 1993 that those of us living longer are, in her words “biological pioneers.” I love that term! It is a new category for those of us who are older and experience the new terrain that longevity has made possible.

I find the constant hammering away at the supposed perils of population aging, either in the public or private spheres, often make older people feel that they are burdens.  If you agree with me that we are anything but burdens  I’d love to hear from you about what you find to be the positive strengths of being older.

Lillian

 

 

 

 

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OAS & GIS DELAYED TWO YEARS: Does it matter?

Well, that depends on who you talk to.  If it is the Federal Gov’t you will be told that these two programs as currently constituted are not sustainable because of population aging. The latter will drive up the costs and be a burden to future taxpayers.  Also we now have four working taxpayers for every one older person over 65. In the future, given low fertility and fewer in the paid wokforce, it will cost many additional millions.

Sounds perfectly reasonable, except if you talk to others, this is not the case. Starting right at the top a report from the OECD about Canada’s Pension System by Edward Whitehouse found that “The analysis [the report] suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes.”  He studied 30 OECD countries and concluded that our current system is just fine for the future.  Here’s the kicker: This report was produced at the”request of the Department of Finance Canada” and published in 2009. Further the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) stated in an article titled “Government ignores CARP members on the OAS” expressing its concern that OAS changes will hurt, not help the next generation.

I am in agreement with that.  Although this raise in age from 65 to 67 years will not affect those born before Mar.31/58 (clever political tactic) does not obscure the fact that there will be more Canadians to whom such a delay will mean great hardship. For e.g., those who work in heavy industries such as construction whose bodies wear out more quickly for one; for another poorer older people, mostly poor older women close to 65.  Our public pension system has lowered those poverty rates dramatically.  We are told that 4.5% of those over 65 are at the poverty line. But as I have pointed out many times, this figure is gender blind. If you look at it by gender, you will see that 16% of single women over 65 are at or below the poverty line as are  12% of older men.

Even of more concern are the large numbers of older Canadians who find it necessary to use the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) which is means tested. In its wisdom the Feds have also raised the age at which one can get the GIS. And who do you suppose are the largest users of this safety net? Older women, among whom some 62% of those aged 70-74 rely on the GIS as do 73% of those aged 75-79 and the older they get the higher the percentages.  Further there are many mid-life women who perform unpaid caregiving for frail elders and suffer economically for doing so. Delaying the receipt of OAS/GIS will have serious economic consequences for older Canadians. It will have serious consequences for the governement as well, who will have to support the additional numbers requiring assistance.

As to the number of workers  which will shrink in the future, that is clearly a problem, especially since our birth rate is so low – 1.7 children per parents in their reproductive years. The high unemployment rate of youth is a serious concern.  Perhaps if the government looked at the above problems, as well as the OECD report, they might better spend their energies creating jobs for younger people instead of creating circumstances which will mean greater hardship for poorer older people.  Two wrongs -raising benefit ages for the OAS and the GIS and youth unemployment- don’t make one right. In fact it makes three wrongs.

 

 

 

 

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Ageism Reaches New Heights, or is it New Depths?

A news item on Jan.12th informs us that an 82 year old woman in Cranbrook BC, whose name is Margaret MacDonald was apprehended for drunk driving although she was completely sober.  She failed 15 times to blow when asked by an officer to do so. She tried to explain that she has a lung condition, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to do the blow test. She was fined, her license suspended, and car towed away. But “after the two-hour ordeal in a midnight chill Margaret MacDonald went to the local hospital and had her  blood tested for alcohol. There was none.”  At present she is attempting to get this overturned.

Several days later Ms.MacDonald suffered a mild heart attack.

Where does one start?  This is nothing short of extreme ageism to start, and elder abuse in addition.  Here was a totally sober older woman, trying to explain to the police that she suffered from a lung condition which didn’t allow her to blow.  This was completely ignored. She was then further humiliated by having to stand outside of her house in the cold while the police were going through their outrageous beaurocratic shenanigans.  Yes, I know road tests are extremely valuable and cut down the number of accidents and so on.  That is not the issue.

The real issue is that the police simply did not listen to this woman’s explanation.  This is ageism, pure and simple. Likely these officers had a stereotypical picture of an older person who in their view was confused, and probably didn’t know what she was talking about and likely drunk to boot.  Well, somebody was confused all right and it was not Margaret MacDonald.  I shudder when I think that with population aging – which seems to concern everybody – this type of abuse may only increase. What is clearly needed is some type of sensitivity training to inform those occupying public jobs, like the police, to not pre-judge a person on the basis of her/his age.  I won’t hold my breath (pun intended).

A couple of months ago I submitted an article to a Canadian magazine, arguing that popular culture fills young women with a dread of aging, sending them on dangerous diets, supposed anti-aging creams, including cosmetic surgery and much more. The article was rejected as it did not “have a hook.”  Well, this case may qualify as a “hook” but on the other hand, maybe younger people are being realistic when they fear becoming older.

I will not write an article about it, but if I did I would herald this wonderful woman, though shivering and humiliated, had the wit to go to a hospital and prove that she was alcohol free! That is what should be trumpeted as a triumph, and much more descriptive of older women’s, and older men’s ability to outwit (in this case) the police.

In fact I will raise a glass to her at dinner, and hope that later on, no police stops me and harrasses me because I am an octogenarian.

Way to go, Margaret MacDonald.

 

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“OLDER WOMEN LEAD PACK IN JOB GAINS.” So says the Globe & Mail.

An article in the Globe and Mail, Dec.11/11 with this  encouraging headline made my heart leap.  While I knew that older women aged 45-64 are increasing their numbers in the paid work force,  I hadn’t realized that this was of such a large scope as to warrant an article. Reading it I found that the employment rate among older women had risen 1.6 percentage points since the recession, that job gains among older women have occurred entirely on the services side of the economy since the recession- in finance, professional services, health care and retail.  This was described as a “quiet shift” which would have an impact on employers and  how they manage their workers – i.e. need for more part-time work, improved lighting and so on.

Just wait a minute, I thought. Where exactly are they working in these sectors?  What are they earning?  Are they getting full-time jobs, including benefits?  and so on.  I then went to the comments on this article, and found the following gems, which I repeat here, close to the original:

-The headline could have been “the recession and lack of public pension system forces female seniors back to work.”

- I see more old ladies wearing paper hats at McDonalds serving up slop for minimum wage.

-One woman with  numerous degrees and years of experience wrote to the effect that when she went for job interviews, she is greeted by an under thirty year greenhorn whose face drops when he sees someone old enough to be his grandma walks into his office.  This interviewer can barely put a sentence together, yet reads off a script wanting to know what my long term career goals are.  She then asks ” what’s the point to this article?”

-finally one which I found amusing to the effect that for many managers these older women are safe play.  They do the job effictively and won’t be gunning for their [the managers] positions.

- another person comments that with regard to the health sector, many nurses return to work on contract, as opposed to full time jobs.

These comments reflect a very different take on the whole positive tenor of the article about older women leading the pack in job gains.  The commentators seem to make clear the difference between objective views of gains being made by older women getting jobs and the actual realities they experience.

What is your take on all this?

Lillian Zimmerman.

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INTERGENERATIONAL SQUABBLES ARE USELESS AND CAUSE HARM

What I mean by intergenerational squabbles refers to an issue which is gaining recent attention- or regaining since it was fashionable about 10 years ago.  It is the idea that one generation is robbing another so to speak, with regard to societal resources.  Right now the reference is mostly to the fact that older people are  considered to be wealthy,  and won’t get out of the way of younger people so the latter can make progress because the olders are using up resources which the younger generation needs.  I had a guest editorial in the Globe on Sept.19/11 about the dislike of older people in general. It garnered numerous comments such as those I’ve just outlined by younger people, and on the other hand older people wrote critically of the younger generation as being a self-serving “me” generation who expected all kinds of resources as their right.

This is not only foolish, but can foster intergenerational wars which are nothing but destructive. In the first place, such an argument assumes that there is a zero-sum amount of resources, which is far from the case, as resources are allocated by politicians and policy makers.  Second the idea that older people are wealthy is simply false.  Right now, 17% older unattached  women over 65 and 12% of men in the same category are at or below the poverty line. Many older people have to resort to the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) because they don’t have enough to live on. Further older people who have discretionary funds support their adult children when they are in need – for e.g. during financial recessions as well as giving support in time and money to their grandkids. They also are generous givers to charities, and are the major volunteers in Canada.  Their contribution has been estimated at over $10 billion annually. 

Finally, the problems which younger generations are battling include social strucures in no way attributable to their elders: unemployment, high cost of buying a home, rising food costs, stagnating wages and so on. At the time of this writing there are worldwide “Occupy Wall St.”protests ( or some other appropriate designation).  Protesters are voicing their discontent with corporate greed which results in the above difficulties

According to Dr. Andrew Wister’s, Professor and chair, of the Department of Gerontology at SFU letter to the editor in the Vancouver Sun, Oct.25/11 who writes “We do not have to take away from one generation to improve the lives of another.” Further, in a letter to the Globe and Mail, Oct.5/11 from Maxwell Yalden, former Canadian Human Rights Commissioner who wrote regarding intergenerational complaints “The object of a civilized and compassionate society should be intergenerational sharing, not divisive allegations that propagate an image of one element of the community as creating an unacceptable burden to the other.”

Amen to that! and let’s not fall into the useless trap of intergenerational blaming.  It is the structures which generate improper allocation of resources which should be the focus.

Lillian Zimmerman

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IS THE FEAR OF DEMENTIA DRIVING YOU CRAZY?

For sometime now I have been thinking about the huge amount of attention being paid to population aging.especially in the media and the idea that  we will see more and more older people afflicted with some form of dementia.  According to the Alzheimer’s Society, given aging populations, we can expect to have 1.1 million Canadians living with it within 25 years.

Let me make something very clear.  Altzheimers and similar mental afflictions are truly tragic.  I know personally as my own late Mother suffered from it in her later life, starting at age 92.  It is absolutely awful to watch someone you know and love, who was independent and previously engaged, simply slip away from you and everyone else. I do not in any way suggest otherwise.

What bothers me, however, is this.  The population is aging, and women are living the longest. Right now in Canada women live to be 82 years, with men now 77. The gap is closing somewhat.  In Japan for e.g. women now live to be 86 years.  So what I see is that the majority of old people will be women, most especially those over 85.  Therefore if the majority of older people will be women, and dementia will be a growing affliction, what we can deduce is that there will be a lot of older women who are suffering from dementia. I started to wonder how the emphasis on this mental disease  was affecting women who are now aging.  For example boomers: the first of whom reached 65 this year, and the last of whom will do so by 2031.  Are they letting this constant emphasis on the possibility of becoming demented frighten them?  Are they making plans for their future based on this possibility?  I’m not dreaming this up.  Here is a headline from  from a newspaper  “Prepare now, while still of sound mind”, The National Post, July 26,2011. The article was directed at boomers. This is very scarey stuff. 

I also found a U.S. study of older people which shows that their number one fear is becoming demented. Here are figures for Canada from Statistics Canada. “Women in Canada”, ‘Senior Women ‘Chart 17, which shows that the leading cause of death among senior women 65 and over, is 945.5 per hundred thousand from a malignancy while death from Altzheimer’s is 165.4 per hundred thousand.  I’m not trying to set up a grotesque competition by comparing causes of death. What I am trying to find out is how many older people – men and women- are being terrified by the threat of a possible demented future. And since women now live the longest, are they harbouring a deep fear for something which may never happen? Are they restricting their present lives in any way by this dread, meaning are they being affected psychologically by internalizing such fears? If  you have any thoughts along these lines, please do send me a comment.  I already have one from an aging boomer whom I interviewed.  She told me “To be honest it scares the life out of me” going on to say her own mother developed it and that sometimes, though she tries to not dwell on it, she fears becoming one of those poor old women fading away in a care home.

I would like to know how prevalent her feelings are, because we have to learn to not let the fact that we forget things occasionally fill us with dread.  Forgetting can be a normal development of aging, and does not necessarily signal the onset of mental illness.  I once put the sugar bowl in the fridge and the butter in the cupboard, and other similar incidents. And here I am, well over eighty!

Lillian

 

 

 

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Maybe being Invisible is okay- at least you’re not a slut

 

In early June 2011 a regular storm of what are called “slutwalks” took place. These were marches in response to a remark made by a Toronto police officer who told students  “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”  Protests rightly followed in the form of these slutwalks with the intention of emphasizing the irony of the situation where  female victims of sex crimes are blamed for being attacked.  These walks aimed to demonstrate that women could dress anyway they wanted to because in a sense it was not their problem but a problem for [some] men.

An interesting analysis appeared in the Herald Scotland on Monday June 13/11 which showed a number of responses to these protests, ranging from being called one of the most successful feminist campaigns in the past few decades, to those who objected that this as contributing to the growing pornification of young girls.  For example, lingerie manufacturers are making “thongs” for girls aged 5 and over. ( See the 2007 APA definitive “Report on Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.) Others commented that far from being understood as irony, many men were enjoying this opportunity to see women dressed as sluts – thus missing the point entirely.

As an older woman and lifelong feminist who was part of the Canadian women’s movement in the sixties and seventies I think that these protests have little to do with one of the main objectives of the women’s movement which aimed to make women truly independent economically, socially and culturally.  Most certainly older feminists fought against women being seen as sexual objects.  So the dilemma for me is that I understand the angry response to that  Toronto police officer’s  dumb remark, but sadly, he still represents some men’s objectification of women by trying to blame the way they dress for sexual attacks against them.

But I do not see this form of protest as “capturing the imagination of a new generation” as the  Scottish article states. If it does then I think it is capturing the wrong aspect.  It would be far more edifying if young feminists protested the whole culture of sexualization  now starting with little girls as  young as five, which has grown to mammoth proportions, distorting female sexuality in the movies, on TV, in advertising ( big time) etc.  One person calls it “the pornification of everything.” Unfortunately the word “slut” evokes mainly negative responses.

So, while I rant about the invisibility of older women, maybe we ( older women) now have our own irony with regard to slutwalks – we’re so invisible culturally that the word slut doesn’t apply to us.  Is this progress?

Lillian.

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HOW ABOUT A LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER ABOUT OLDER WOMEN?

An article I got from  Google’s “Older Women in the Media”, May 24/11 tells of an umbrella U.S. organization called OWES who wrote a letter to “Dear Mr.President” regarding the U.S. budget. Apparently no women were involved.  The letter objected to this absence and told of some of the hardships U.S. women endure and especially how budget cuts would affect older women.

While we in Canada have an outstanding public pension system, which has effectively reduced poverty among older Canadians in important ways, there are still some anomalies which receive scant attention.  For example, according to Statistics Canada, the average Canada Pension Plan ( CPP) monthly pension received by a retired male for February/2011 was $603.51 and for a retired female, it was $420.06. There is absolutely no doubt that CPP pensions are equally calculated for both men and women with benefits based on how long they have worked and how much they have contributed.  There is no intent on anybody’s part to cause this gender difference.  What, then, does account for this discrepancy?

Well, for starters, women still earn differently from what men do.  Again, according to a Statistics Canada report (“Women in Canada” December 10/2010)  in 2008 women earned $30,000, and men earned $47,000.  Earnings, of course, differ according to those who have full-time work and those who work part-time.  Almost 30% of women work part-time, a statistic which has been steady for over a decade.  Another huge factor is caregiving, and with growing number of elders, women have to take time off, or work fewer hours or quit work to attend to these familiy responsibilities. This also reduces their income.

It is not surprising then to find that poverty among older Canadians, though greatly improved by our public pension system ( CPP, OAS,GIS) is still far too high.   Again, according to “Women in Canada”, 15.7% of women over 65 had  low incomes (after tax)  and 8.2% of men. These figures may be conservative as there are other sources who find that poverty among single older women has risen to 17% since the economic crisis.  Ninety-five percent of  eligible Canadians over age 65 receive  the OAS.  According to Service Canada, the Old Age Security is $526.85 as the maximum monthly benefit. The Guaranteed Income Supplement is $665.00  as the maximum monthly benefit.  A bit more startling are figures from the Canadian Labour Congress  which show that in 2009  over 4.5 million Canadian seniors collect OAS and 1.6 million collect the GIS.  We have to remember that those getting the GIS are low income persons over age 65. Therefore, the discrepancy between gender  difference in CPP retirement benefits can be accounted for as a culmination of unequal wages between  men and women, time out of the work force by women caregivers, and the difference between women’s full-time and part-time work.

According to the Government’s budget tabled before the  2011 election, they proposed to raise the GIS by some $300,000,000, while opposition parties asked for $$600,000,000. The raise will certainly be of some help, but is not enough to get older people, especially single older women, out of poverty.The  Government Budget figure would give low income  Canadians $50 per month more, or about $1.50 per day, enough as I have said elsewhere, to buy a cup of coffee and some doughnut holes at Timmy’s!

So would writing a letter to our P.M. make a difference?  Probably no more than writing to the President of the U.S. will.  There should be a hue and cry among the now close to retirement Canadian boomer women who are on the receiving end of both wage inequities and unpaid caregiving work.  How about some of the 4 million Canadian boomer women demanding that ways must be found to  raise the proposed $300 million for the GIS, and give caregiving work some kind of retirement pensionable  benefits?  Size ( and loud voices) matter!

Lillian

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I FEEL GREAT ABOUT MY ESSAY

After three (count ‘em) CBC appearances on the Early Edition, talking about my views of the then upcoming election, I now have another terrific event coming up.  I Feel Great About My Hands  is the title of a book about older women, edited by the well-known Canadian writer Shari Graydon. It emphasizes some of the joys of growing older and thus presents an upbeat view of aging, dispelling some of the gloom  and doom scenarios about the supposed horrors of women and age. It is a wonderful antidote to the cosmetic industries’ constant harangue that we must all topple over with fright at the sight of a wrinkle or a gray hair.

The book consists of a number of essays written by older women, from about 50 to over 80.  They are witty, relaxing and simply good fun to read and profit by.  The book has already received terrific reviews by none other than the Huffington Post, the Toronto Star and others.  It appears to be well on its way to becoming a best seller!  I am happy that I have an essay in it which I called “No Country for Old Women?”  It is available now in bookstores.

If you can, please come to the Vancouver launch at the Vancouver Public Library on May 18th at 7.00 pm, the main branch downtown. It is free. It will be a lively evening featuring readings by Shari and the Vancouver authors: Marlaina Gayle, Harriett Lemer, Ann Cowan, Lyn Cockburn, Bonnie Sherr Klein and yours truly Lillian Zimmerman. Numerous other well-known Canadian women have great essays as well.

Come, join the fun and learn how to smash some gloomy myths about women getting older featured in these essays “…And Other UNEXPECTED Joys of Aging.”

Lillian

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