"We don't expect our kids to be participating in the
economy, in our culture, until they reach about late teens,"
says Melody (see Melody's story),
a parent to two young children. Evelyne (see Evelyne's
story), also a young adult, echoes her concerns saying,
"People have the idea that as kids we just consume things."
Most kids in Canada don't see themselves as being part of
the economy and our society doesn't do a lot to recognize
the important part that children play in our economy. Children
are the future of our society, including the economy, and
we must organize our own communities and the world to ensure
that they are protected as well as prepared for the challenges
they will face.
children are the basis of tomorrow's society our economic
investments in them are minimal. Child care workers are among
the lowest paid of all workers. (See Caring
for Children for more.) Child poverty is also a concern.
In Canada one in five children lives in poverty, despite the
federal government's promise to eliminate child poverty by
the year 2000. In Manitoba the rate rises to one in four and
within the Aboriginal community, that number is twice as high.1
Across the world children of single mothers are especially
vulnerable to poverty. In Manitoba a single mother of two
lives 56% below the poverty line (defined by the Statistics
Canada's Low Income Cut-Off.) The 1996 National
Council of Welfare Report says that the poverty rate for
single mothers under the age of 25 was nearly 90%.2
Children who start off life in poverty start their adult lives
at a major disadvantage from those who don't.
As teenagers, many girls start to participate in the paid
workforce and learn to enjoy the benefits of participating
in the economy. Lori Ann, who now runs her own business (see
Lori Ann's story), says, "I
was working at 15 so I always thought of the economy just
as I go get a part-time job, make money and go to the mall
and convert it into clothes." Many teenagers also consider
their future in the economy. If they're able to, they may
start saving for college or university and consider different
occupations that may be available to them (see Kim's story).
They also experience their first tastes of discrimination
discovering lower-paying job options and a still segregated
workforce. For teenage girls there is also a risk of pregnancy,
a reality that can have huge consequences for the rest of
a girl's life.
As young adults many women experience their first taste of
financial freedom. In Canada that might mean moving out on
their own, getting their first full-time jobs and pay cheques,
and living independently of their parents. At this point many
women finally feel they're giving back to the economy. At
the same time they may discover major economic challenges:
realizing that they are likely to be paid less than men no
matter what their qualifications, and wondering if they will
find permanent jobs or just part-time or contract work. Women
often find themselves in lower-paid job ghettos (see Women
and Paid Work) while still trying to pay off ever-larger
student debts. And while women know how important a college
or university education is for future financial security,
the option is not always available. Some women have to work
very hard in order to be able to afford post-secondary; for
others even hard work isn't enough to get them there. Unemployment
may also be a concern for young adult women; the unemployment
rates for young women in their 20s are much higher than for
women in their 30s and 40s.
Many women have children during their 20s and 30s and while
some continue to work full-time, many others choose to spend
a few years at home caring for their children - at least if
they can afford it. Many women have no choice; they must find
paid work in order to meet their family's financial needs.
This isn't always a solution either as going back to work
often means having to put children in childcare. In Manitoba
the cost of registered childcare is higher than university
tuition so many parents of young children find themselves
in a tight spot. For single parents, the choices are even
more agonizing. (See Caring for Children
for more.) Some women decide to forego children altogether
rather than attempt the balancing act of career and family.
As their children grow older, women who've stayed at home
find their way back into the paid work force. Some women face
an unpleasant surprise as they realize that the qualifications
and experience of motherhood are not recognized there. Leah
(see Leah's story), who has a Master's
degree in Family Studies, took her education to heart and
stayed home for 13 years to raise her children. Then she started
looking for paid work. When she applied for certification
from Manitoba Child Day Care, she was shocked to discover
that "none of my education or experience was recognized
and I was awarded the Childcare Assistant certificate. This
is the lowest standing and not enough to qualify me for a
job in a Montessori school," which is what she wanted.
(Note: UNPAC has learned that a Prior Learning Assessment
is now being incorporated in such appraisals.)
Some women lose long-time jobs in their late 40s and 50s and
must retrain themselves in order to be 'marketable.' At age
49, Helma (see Helma's Story), who
is an artist, lost her job in the arts field due to government
cutbacks. Helma discovered few work options available to her.
She was forced to cash in RRSPs from her divorce and spent
some time working as a telemarketer. Eventually she followed
her heart and found a way to work full-time as an artist but
the economic consequences of this choice have been high.
Women may face other unexpected challenges too. Some women
develop disabilities during their later working years. While
women live longer than men, they do have a higher incidence
of disability. As financial planner Gail Vaz-Oxlade sums up,
"Men die. Women get sick." Women may also lose a
spouse through death or divorce. Half of married women would
live in poverty without their husband's income so the consequences
of this loss can be very high.
As women grow closer to retirement, saving for the future
becomes much more of a concern. Because their working lives
tend to be 'interrupted' by having children, women have fewer
years during which to save. Although women who do not have
children may find that the extra time and energy they have
had to devote to their careers has led to a place of financial
security, like their mother counterparts they may also discover
that their modest qualifications have kept them in low-paying
jobs all their working lives and made it hard to build up
a significant retirement income.
A combination of the wage gap and women's overrepresentation
in the part-time work force means that women's contributions
to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) are less. At the same time
private savings are difficult for those who've never had any
surplus. As a result, half of single Canadian women over the
age of 65 live in poverty. Because women tend to live longer
than men, in Manitoba that means that there are 20,000 older
single women living in poverty - five times the number of
older single men.
Although Canadians are in many ways luckier than citizens
of other countries because of government programs available
to them, programs such as Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed
Income Supplement (GIS) are not substantial enough to pull
anyone out of poverty. Non-refundable tax credits guaranteed
by age, disability, or medical amounts, are of no use to people
who pay no income
taxes; their generosity is reserved for the more affluent.
One group at high risk is seniors at the top end of the low-income
category. Any money they do receive from personal investments
is often largely clawed back from public pension income they
would have received had they not had these extra savings.
As a result, many senior women in Canada survive on incomes
of $12,000/year and even less.
The current shortage of affordable housing in Canada affects
people in vulnerable situations most, including older people.
The lack of national plans for drugs, home care, and extended
care is also a stark reality. Older people require things
to keep them independent: hearing aids, glasses, walkers,
and other aids. Older women have extra needs that older men
may not have. A reliable car or a security system may be more
important to them to help them feel safe, especially when
older women are sometimes a target for crime.
The picture we have painted is somewhat bleak. Women experience
inequality in different ways at all times in their lives -
a difficult reality to accept at the beginning of the 20th
century. In order to counter this trend we need to join with
other women and work for a world that has a place for girls
and women of all ages. At the same time, no matter who we
are, we must take the time to learn from the experiences of
other women and not think that we are somehow immune to becoming
part of the statistics ourselves. One of the ways we can do
that is by taking time to plan ahead. For a few of our suggestions,
visit Planning Ahead.
To learn about programs like OAS, CPP, and GIS, that may
be available to you, visit Canada's
Retirement Income System.
Do these stories resonate with your experiences? Write us
and tell us what you think. If you are from outside Canada,
please write and tell us about the economics of age and aging
in your part of the world.