Living in Victoria, it’s hard not to know somebody living the life of retirement Reilly. Despite more and more younger people coming to the region, the local population remains, on average, older than that of most Canadian cities.
When I moved here, back in the flush of youth, I suddenly found myself with a circle of friends who were, on average, much older than any such circle I’d had before.
They’re all great people.
But I’m going to point out a downside to the difference in our life stages. When you work and many of your friends are retired and retired well, you get to hear them plan their getaways to ski condos, island cottages, on their boats or somewhere exotic — not for a weekend as you are limited to, but for one, two, three months, maybe a year, while they rent out their mortgage-free homes in Victoria.
But that’s fine. As a gainfully employed individual, you regretfully turn down invitations to join these friends on their adventures because, well, you have to work on Monday. You tuck away the regret and focus on the hope that, in 10, 20, 30 years — surely no more than that — you will be making those plans and inviting friends along.
Except the number of working years remaining keeps going up. Just a decade ago, Freedom 55 was the hoped-for target for most people. Then some big shot baby boomer took issue, and as of last December, one of the last bastions in Canada for holding retirement at age 65 officially changed its rules. Now even federal government employees can work until 70 or beyond, if they choose.
Whether they do choose is another question. What will happen if they do choose, then stick around so long they become incapacitated by eventual dementia is yet another question. (Don’t snort. A friend in town is dealing with this at her private-practice workplace.)
Admittedly, the economic downturn in the last five years has forced some people to recalculate retirement on a smaller scale. Some who had retired are returning to the office for a few more years. Some are picking up part-time work. Squeezed by high expectations, high costs, aging parents who need support, kids in university who don’t move out or who move out then move back in because they can’t find work, many working people are now planning to retire, on average, two years later than before. At least, that’s what Stats Canada says.
Welcome to Freedom 67, the new early retirement.
And bosses are encouraging older employees to stick around. This, apparently, will both take strain off pension plans and make up for a shortage in experienced workers.
Never mind that an entire age cohort or two is stuck in middle management, desperate for more experience and new challenges, until the boomers get off the payroll. Never mind that many of the boomers’ own kids are stuck in go-nowhere, pay-nothing, low-experience jobs — if they have a job — until everyone else further along the career pipeline either moves up or out of the pipe.
Delaying retirement across society provides only short-term relief to deeper demographic problems: The plug of boomers in the career pipe is holding many others back. And when that plug finally cannonades free, many of those piling up behind are going to be shot out as well, but without the happy financial history that boomers have enjoyed.
As for me, I’m on the Freedom 95 Plan. When I mention this to older friends — even those who have returned to work — they laugh and think I’m hilarious.
But I’ve long known for years, by the time I retire, Old Age Security will be a distant memory that has nothing to do with Alzheimer’s. I’ve also known that I can’t count on a pension, and that many of the benefits and discounts available to seniors today will not be offered to my age group.
Yup, I’ll be a working stiff until I am a stiff.
And this weekend, I’m going hiking with some friends.