Welcome Dakshana and Margaret.
To get started, can you summarize your opinion pieces for us? What's the outlook on your respective generations?
I make the case that because members of my generation (Generation Y) didn't win the birth lottery (as Margaret puts it), we're facing some serious challenges. It's harder for us to get jobs, to buy property.
What makes things even tougher is that the federal budget has made it clear that Gen X and Gen Y are the ones who will suffer most from the austerity measures the government is introducing. We'll have to work longer and it'll be tougher to save for our own retirements when we're paying for those of boomers (not to mention their health care costs as they age...).
There's a feeling that we're "paying for the sins of our fathers."
I'm basically agreeing with Dakshana. We Boomers won the demographic lottery. We were born when university education was cheap and the job market was wide open. We benefited from the longest period of prosperity in modern times. We could afford real estate, and watched it rise in value. Our pensions and entitlements are secure. We should admit the deck is stacked against the young and try to figure out how to tackle generational inequity. Easier said than done, though.
Keith -- I don't justify it. But I don't know how to remedy it either. I do know that we have to take a hard look at universal entitlements and do more means-testing. This has always been regarded as very un-Canadian. I also think we need to restructure the post-secondary system to deliver better value. The current system (which is fiercely protected by Boomers) is illogical.
Before we get back to the tension between Boomers and Millennials, we've been getting tons of comments about the generation in-between. Here's one example:
How does Generation X fit into this? (And for the purposes of this discussion, I'll go by Dakshana's definition of age cutoffs: Baby boomers are 1946 to 1962, Gen X is 1962 to 1982 and Gen Y is 1982 and after.)
I can tell you that I know a lot of people who feel the same way. Boomers will always have things their (our) way because there are so many of them (us). But it's also true that the lobby of elderly people -- who vote far more than younger people -- has terrorized politicians for years. Maybe everyone should lose the right to vote when they turn 70.
Brian, I feel like many of the points I raised apply to Gen Xers too. In fact, right now, many Gen Xers are feeling these boomer-younger generation tensions most acutely. Still, for us millenials, graduating and looking for jobs in the middle of a recession wasn't fun. And things seem bleak for us in the coming decades as health care costs start to rise for boomers and the older members of Gen X.
Dakshana, thanks for mentioning health care costs. The western world is entering unknown territory - no society has yet faced the demographic reality of a society with such a high ratio of the elderly. Fortunately, Canada won't be the worst off in this regard.
Along those lines, another comment from a reader:
I have a couple of comments about children. First, they don't have to cost a lot, providing you have a bit of family support (grandmas) to help with daycare. It's awful that people are depriving themselves of kids. But it's hard to figure out social incentives that would persuade them. I'm not sure that even free universal daycare would do it. Doesn't seem to work in Europe.
Good point from commenter Oldies. I think the most striking stuff I came across when putting my column together came from a UBC study comparing living standards in 1976 (peak years of early adulthood for boomers) with 2011. While household incomes have increased by a small margin, that doesn't tell the full story -- in 2011 you have far more women contributing to household incomes. I'm glad there's more equality in the workplace now but in many cases both members of a couple feel they MUST work just to keep up with cost of living.
In the mid-70s, a single income was enough to pay a mortgage, handle the costs of raising children, etc. Just not a reality for most today.
Part of the problem about kids and mortgages is that our expectations are so much higher than they were a couple of generations ago. My mom and dad lived with her parents until after their second child was born. My husband slept in a dresser drawer when he was a baby--his parents were students. So kids (and housing) are more expensive partly because our idea of necessities has changed so much.
I know nobody has raised this yet in our chat but one thing I want to bring up before we run out of time -- many of the people who commented on my piece were bothered by my suggestion that millenials will have to pay for the retirement of boomers. They said, "We've been paying into CPP for all these decades so we're paying for our own retirement."
Thing is, back in peak boomer days (the 1970s) the CPP contribution rate was 1.8%. Millenials are just starting out and our contribution rate is 9.9% -- all so that the government can keep up with payouts for boomers.
Chris - good point. The parents of boomers were the most productive generation our country has ever seen. As a whole, though, boomers haven't paid it forward in the same way...
Instead of paving the way to a good life for their children, they borrowed far more than they could pay back and now their children have to pay the bill.
Chris, I don't see this as a blame game. The boomers' parents built the modern welfare state, of which we can all be proud. They eliminated poverty in old age, which had been an awful problem, and established universal medicare.
It's the demographics that made the welfare state unsustainable as we know it -- along with slowing economic growth. There was no political incentive for tackling these long-term problems -- in fact, any politicians who tried it would have been voted out. The positive element, for Canada, is that we have time and room to correct course. The Europeans don't. They are having a crash landing.
Is Don's suggestion possible?
Don, don't you think boomers would argue that that's age-based discrimination too?
One practical alternative solution - at least for the OAS changes - that I've seen (and that was pitched by many boomers) is changing the system so that clawbacks begin at a lower income level.
But that's just OAS. No clue how we're going to get through what's coming for our health care system.
In response to Don, the Canadian government is simply doing what all western governments have already done or will have to do -- tweak entitlements and roll back the retirement age. This is perfectly logical, even though it will seem unfair to some. Remember, the retirement age of 65 dates back to the 1800s-- when life spans were in their 50s! No one anticipated that people would collect pensions for 20 or 25 years.
We're getting quite a few comments about voting. I'm going to post a few now.
But generally speaking, how much of the current system can be attributed to the fact that older citizens vote more often than young ones?
I don't want to leave this point by Margaret behind, though: "There was no political incentive for tackling these long-term problems -- in fact, any politicians who tried it would have been voted out."
One thing I will concede on is that my generation does gripe a lot about the burden we're carrying/will have to carry but we don't vote in the numbers we should. Boomers are the ones who keep electing governments that have their best interests at heart.
Don's comments about the health care system are another matter. We spend huge amounts of money trying to "fix up" people in the last stages of their lives. That's probably inhumane as well as costly. We need a big discussion about that......
I've voted in every election - municipal, provincial, federal - since I turned 18. Disappointed that not all my generational peers do the same.
I do have one optimistic thing to say about the housing market. Sellers need buyers. House prices will eventually come down to earth when the boomers really start to unload their real estate. Besides, parts of our housing market are seriously overvalued and will correct.
Good question. Yes, for the purposes of this discussion, we are using Generation Y and Millennials interchangeably.
Dakshana: Why do you think the Millennials aren't voting as often?
To both: Is this just how it's always been? I.e., did Boomers vote often when they were young?
I'm not surprised that millennials are politically disengaged. That's true of most young people. They start to get interested once they're paying taxes (especially property taxes!)
Millenials came of age under our current Conservative government. I think for many, it's all we've known and so some feel like major change isn't possible -- that's one theory, at least.
I will say the results of the last election gave me a bit of optimism. The rise of the NDP was fuelled in large part by young people.
The biggest job for the Millennials will be to reinvent our institutions -- education, health care, government --so that they are more flexible, more efficient and more responsive to citizens, at a cost that society can afford. This will take a lot of creativity. But their impact will be huge.
SimmaDawnNaw (fantastic username, by the way): for millenials, I think they need to be encouraged to visit the ballot box more as just discussed rather than complaining about their lot and not doing anything to change it. I think boomers need to be reminded of the great moves their parents made and think about the Canada they want for their children and grandchildren.
I've heard from a lot of millenials who think boomers don't care at all about the environment since they won't be around to suffer through the effects of climate change. May not be the case, but when things like the environmental review process for natural resource projects are scrapped in large part in the budget, theories like that take shape...
That will be our last question. But I guess that's the flipside to Margaret's comment - what if some of our best and brightest Millennials don't take up the challenge to reinvent our institutions?
I wouldn't be surprised if that happened, sc. Simply on an education level I'm seeing that happen already -- many of my peers have gone overseas for education (many for professional schools) where there isn't as much competition and the cost of living is cheaper. Upon receiving their degrees they've stayed there.
A big part of the generational divide is the result of globalization -- cheap labour overseas is making jobs dry up here or making wages lower.
Dakshana, you're right about the boomers being mindful of the world we want for our children and grandchildren. As for Canada -- I think the opposite will be the case. Young professionals from around the world will be clamoring to come to Canada because we have the best quality of life and a stable, relatively prosperous economy that will remain strong because of our good governance, educated people and our bonanza of natural resources. We're the envy of the world and that's not going to change any time soon.
Great discussion today. Thanks for all the great questions, and I'm sorry we couldn't get to more.
Thanks, Dakshana and Margaret, for joining us.
Thanks everyone! Glad we did this.