The phone rang the other day. It was for me. My husband took the message. "Shoppers Drug Mart called to remind you that Thursday is Seniors' Day," he smirked.
"I hate you," I replied.
I just turned 65. I'm still in shock. But the older I get, the more I am enjoying my new privileges. Seniors (what an awful word!) are the new elite. Politicians pander to us. We get tax breaks up the yin-yang. We suck up most of the health care. Our employers can't even kick us out the door. Not that most of us need to work. We're rich.
Yet society still treats us as if we're living on canned beans. We get discounts on everything. I can buy a TTC ticket for two bucks, even if I'm the wealthiest person on the bus. I get a seniors' discount at the movies. I choked the first few times we asked for seniors' tickets, but now I'd be outraged if we couldn't get them. I just wish they'd ask for my ID. But no such luck. To everybody under 30, everyone their parents' age is old.
My local gym reflects the general greying. It's jammed with enthusiastic seniors pushing barbells and doing laps. I take a class called Groove, where not-quite-young women cavort around the room to funky music and pretend they can dance. I look ridiculous, but so does everybody else. Naturally, I now pay the reduced seniors' rate. After class, a few of us sometimes hang around to chat over coffee. No one talks about their grandchildren. They talk about their trips to India, Thailand or Nepal.
The women in my class are by no means what you'd call wealthy. Nor are they what you'd call old. They're former professors and administrators. Some still work part time. They are vibrant, young-looking, even (to my eyes, anyway) sexy. Most have comfortable pensions and no debts. The ordinary Toronto houses they bought for modest sums several decades ago are now worth seven figures. They all say they're much better off at this age than they ever imagined they would be.
Canadian senior citizens are among the most affluent people in the world. Fewer than 5 per cent of seniors live below the poverty line – one-third the rate of children who do. Since 1999, the median net worth of seniors has jumped 70 per cent. We are better off financially than our parents, and we're way, way better off than the struggling 30-year-olds who will never enjoy the job security, the pension plans, and the high house prices and stock returns with which we've been blessed. We've worked hard for what we have. But we also stepped on a 40-year-long escalator that went straight up.
So when budget time comes around, who gets the goodies? We do! This week's federal budget has been called a seniors' budget, and for good reason. We got twiddles to our RRIFs and expansions to our TFSAs. Our government cheques for OAS and GIS and CPP just keep rolling in, even if we don't need the money. We can hire financial planners to manipulate our affairs in clever ways so that our tax bills will be much, much lower than everybody else's. No matter how loaded we are, our health care and drugs are pretty well free. Now we can even get a tax break for our walk-in shower.
Multiply all of this by 20 or 30 years, and you get a wealth transfer from young to old that's truly impressive. Thank you, younger generation!
Why don't the kids revolt? It's a mystery to me. Maybe they figure it's worth it because their parents will benefit. Maybe they imagine that all this will be theirs too some day. (Good luck with that.) Or maybe they just don't know the score. It's pretty hard to get riled up over old people's RRIFs if you don't have a clue what they are.
Seniors, on the other hand, will fight tenaciously to keep what they've got (and to get more). We are frighteningly well organized, and we scare the hell out of politicians. We have lots of time to lobby, and we vote. Three-quarters of all 65-year-olds voted in the last federal election, but less than half of 30-year-olds did. No politician, however brave he or she may be, can afford to make us mad. Although some of us may look old and frail, we're as vicious as honey badgers if we're cornered.
Some high-minded people think the over-65s should start a "generativity revolution" in the name of fairness. If millions of seniors got together to demand changes in health spending, fewer tax breaks, and more means testing, the politicians would listen and our collective grandchildren would be better off. Alas, this won't happen. People are quite happy to help out their own grandchildren, but I suspect they are not so eager to help out other people's.
One day we'll change the retirement age to 74. Or everyone will come with a built-in expiry date and all our problems will be solved. Meanwhile, my friends and I are exploiting our privileges to the max. Perhaps I'll go back to university to study for an advanced degree. (Tuition is free at many universities, for seniors.) Perhaps I'll pick out some nice marble tile for our new walk-in shower (tax credit: $1,500). I'll even take advantage of Seniors' Day at Shoppers'. I hate it. But I can't resist.