New census figures showing aging population pose future problems for Canada, experts warn

·3 min read
The working-age population in Canada — people aged 15 to 64 — is older than it has ever been, according to census figures released Wednesday.  (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
The working-age population in Canada — people aged 15 to 64 — is older than it has ever been, according to census figures released Wednesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

More people are retiring than entering the workforce and the latest census figures show that gap will only grow in the coming years — a trend some experts warn will put a strain on services like health-care and housing and won't be entirely solved by immigration.

The working-age population in Canada — people aged 15 to 64 — is older than it has ever been, according to census figures released Wednesday. The data shows there's a now a larger proportion of people aged 55 to 64 than those aged 15 to 24, the age at which people start working.

"Immigration helps but it doesn't cure," said Monica Boyd, a professor of sociology and the Canada research chair in immigration, inequality and public policy at the University of Toronto.

"The trouble is, is that when you get into birth rates that are as low as ours ... you really can't overcome that deficit through immigration."

Roughly 21.8 per cent of the population is close to retirement, between ages 55 to 64, an "all-time high" in the history of Canadian censuses.

That means more than one in five working adults is now nearing retirement — a demographic shift that's expected to pose significant challenges in the coming decade.

CBC
CBC

The working-age population being older than ever will have a significant impact on future generations, Boyd said.

"If you have a profound labour scarcity, you cannot fill the jobs that are needed ... You cannot effectively provide services," she told CBC News.

"We have services around us continually that we now no longer think of as services ... They're the bus that you take, the bus driver. They are the person that you get service Canada to renew your driver's licence. They are retail workers."

The latest census data also shows people are living longer, which means health care will have to accommodate an older population.

Last year, the oldest baby boomers turned 76, and they most probably live independently, said Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald, director of financial security research at the National Institute on Ageing at Toronto Metropolitan University.

"They haven't started hitting these critical ages that are usually associated with needing care and support," MacDonald said.

Alex Lupul/CBC
Alex Lupul/CBC

Dr. Samir Sinha, the director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital and the University Health Network in Toronto, said the latest data is unsurprising but it's never too late to reverse course.

"We knew in 2011 when our baby boomers started turning 65 that this is going to be our future that we need to be prepared for," Sinha told CBC News Wednesday.

While the millennial population is trending toward becoming the largest generation in Canada by 2026, the sheer number of over-85s in the country will make it difficult to fund the increased demand for health services and care, according to the latest numbers.

"It boggles my mind because we've known the data for a long time, we knew what was ahead of us, I just think we always decide to prioritize other populations and other needs earlier," Sinha said.

"We need to play a game of catch-up and we need to play it soon."

Sinha says the province needs a significant investment in home and community care, especially with the Ontario election ahead in June.

"We actually know what needs to be done but what this pandemic has shown us is that we significantly under-invest in our home and community care and long term care systems and you end up getting the results you pay for."

All levels of government must address the growing elderly population from social supports to housing, Sinha said.

"A decade from now, one in four of us will be an older person," he said.

"There is no time like the present to start fixing the under-funding of our long-term care systems but also making sure we have a more robust home care component."

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