As younger Canadians finish school, begin careers and start homes and families, we are squeezed by lower wages, higher costs, less time and a deteriorating environment – even though our economy produces more wealth than ever before.
While governments use this wealth to adapt policy for others, including our aging population, they continue down a path that leaves little left over for younger generations. For example, Federal Budget 2014 phases in an extra $12-billion in annual spending on retirees, compared to a small fraction of this increase for all Canadians under age 45. Similarly, B.C.'s budget this week plans to phase in more than another billion in annual spending on health care for its retirees, while reducing spending on citizens under age 45 by hundreds of millions.
Nobody wants government budgets to protect spending on seniors at the expense of investing in their kids and grandchildren. Unfortunately, governments will continue this trade-off until we build a powerful organization that speaks up for younger Canada.
We are inspired to build such an organization by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP). CARP is on a "march to a million" members because it knows that research about healthy aging yields more influence over policy when it is accompanied by political clout. It builds clout by bringing like-minded people together who are attracted in part by the promise to keep money in their pocket.
We're glad CARP exists to speak up for our retired parents and grandparents. But our retired parents wonder who stands up for younger generations?
That's why thousands from coast to coast and of all ages are joining Generation Squeeze to speak up for those in their mid-40s and younger. We are motivated by a vision for Canada that works for all generations. One where all Canadians have the chance to live up to their potential, enough time and money to enjoy life, and work together to leave our country and planet better off than we found it.
We pursue this vision in the market by looking for like-minded companies that can save younger Canadians time and money with member discounts on products and services, just as CARP negotiates discounts for seniors.
In politics, we are disenchanted by scandals surrounding Rob Ford and the Senate. But we know we can change politics from the outside if we have enough people power. Especially in ridings with historically close elections, it will take just a fraction of our allies to make the difference between winning and losing political races.
Then political parties on the right, left and centre will have new incentives to adapt policy for Gen Squeeze as they currently do for retirees, finding reasonable ways to:
Rein in costs – because tuition and housing prices are double what they were a generation ago, and because child care can cost more than university tuition;
Boost household incomes – because younger generations cope with lower wages and skyrocketing costs by working more, but still require time away from paid work, like after the birth of a child, training for a job, or when we retire;
Free up time to spend with family – because often we try to adapt to rising costs and lower wages by taking on even more work or by going back to school, which leaves less time to start a family or spend time with the family we have; and,
Make it easier to save for retirement because on top of rising costs and lower wages, younger Canadians are less likely to find jobs with generous pensions.
We can pursue these adaptations while safeguarding medical care and retirement income for our aging population; and do so in ways that use natural resources no faster than the earth can sustain them for next generations.
While we do, we'll change for the better. We'll feel better equipped to provide for our family and ourselves. We'll have newfound confidence in our ability to influence our elected officials. We'll be focused on achieving real prosperity rather than growth for growth's sake. And we'll feel less isolated, because we are able to spend more time with family and friends, and possibly less on stuff.
Paul Kershaw is a UBC Professor, and Founder of Generation Squeeze; Eric Swanson is Gen Squeeze's director of public engagement.