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Jacob Wackerhausen

Canadian seniors' spending power, employment and accumulated wealth have soared, putting them in their strongest financial position yet, a new report shows. But many still want and need to work.

Higher incomes and net worth are helping make this generation of seniors four times wealthier than their parents were, and nine times richer than today's millennials, according to a study of seniors' household finances by Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at the Bank of Montreal. At the same time, the country's work force of employees aged 65 and over has doubled to more than 13 per cent since 1984.

"As a group, seniors have never been better off financially," Mr. Guatieri said in the report. "Many have benefited from strong equity, bond and real estate markets, rising participation in the work force, and higher pension benefits."

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As more seniors have sought to remain in the workplace, it has become harder for them to find work. The job market is increasingly competitive for seniors, leading to an unemployment rate of 4 per cent, up from 2.3 per cent 30 years ago, Mr. Guatieri noted.

Despite their improved financial standing over all, many seniors are working because they feel they need to because of a lack of savings, a desire to help their children, or the expense of taking care of older family members, said Susan Eng, the vice-president of advocacy for CARP, a lobby group for aging Canadians.

"We did some polling of our members and it comes to 50 per cent that say they stay in the work force past age 65 because they have to, and the other half because they say 'I love my job,'" said Ms. Eng. The average age of CARP's membership is 69 years old, but the group is now reaching out to boomers as young as 45 to help them plan ahead.

Governments have developed programs to encourage businesses to hire older workers. In 2012 the federal government agreed to commit $6-million over three years to expand ThirdQuarter, a not-for-profit group that helps match job seeking Canadians over the age of 45 with companies looking for experienced candidates.

"Canada's population is aging – we're living longer, having healthier lives – and retirement isn't the end of the line any more," said Iris Chrol, spokeswoman for ThirdQuarter. About 40 per cent of the group's job seekers are more than 65 years of age, and some have never crafted a résumé. Many find jobs in industries such as tourism, manufacturing, financial services and in call centres. The organization has observed an anecdotal increase in the number of job-seekers expressing financial need, or fears that their savings will be insufficient.

The federal, provincial and territorial governments also launched a joint Targeted Initiative for Older Workers program in 2006 to help unemployed Canadians aged 55 to 64 find jobs. The initiative is aimed at smaller communities where downsizing or high unemployment have limited job prospects for older workers.

Older workers need to find meaningful work, rather than just any job, Ms. Eng said. "If the fishery closes and everyone's got to go work at a call centre – and that's not the job they were trained for – they're a fish out of water," she said.

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Seniors' inclination to borrow money has climbed alongside their incomes and employment rates.

About 43 per cent of seniors had some form of loan in 2012 amid low interest rates, up from less than 28 per cent in 1999, Mr. Guatieri said.

But the value of the loans is small and most seniors won't be troubled by rising rates. "The amount of debt held by the typical senior is small at $18,000 in 2012," he wrote, noting that the amount was less than the $23,700 in real median income seniors earned each year, as of 2011 data.

This increasing debt load is more of a concern to CARP, since the majority of its members said they have taken on debt to help their kids and pay daily expenses.

"Every fact has two sides. Being back at work, taking on debt, having a mortgage. These aren't necessarily positives compared to the past," Ms. Eng said. "And it's only going to get worse for seniors coming forward because this [current] group has had the advantage of a higher percentage having workplace pensions."

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