Low-income seniors feeling effects of gender pay gap, report finds

The percentage of B.C. seniors living in poverty has grown significantly over the last two decades, according to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The study found that seniors' poverty in the province rose from a low of 2.2 per cent in 1996 to 12.7 per cent in 2014, based on the most recent data from Statistics Canada. Nearly half of B.C. seniors have an after-tax income below the $25,000 poverty line.

The report's lead author, Iglika Ivanova, says female seniors are particularly disadvantaged due to lifelong gendered income disparities. The report found senior women are more likely to be living in poverty compared to men.

"They have lower incomes from pensions because they earned less when they worked," she told CBC News. "They qualify for less CPP ... and they've been able to save much less for retirement privately through RSPs and employment pension plans."

Although the gender wage gap has narrowed, it's far from closed. Currently, women in B.C. earn 32 per cent less on average than men, according to the report. 

"It's still here, and if we don't address it, then the women who are working today are going to be the senior women who are poor tomorrow."

Policies not keeping up

Ivanova says the growing poverty rates among B.C. seniors is widely attributable to the rising costs of living, and that housing subsidies have not kept up housing costs, particularly in the Lower Mainland.

Nearly one fifth of B.C. seniors rent. However, wait lists for affordable subsidized housing are growing, meaning many seniors struggle with low vacancy rates and expensive rental housing.

In turn, rental subsidies are not enough to offset housing affordability, concerns that many low income seniors face. 

"In 2015/16, close to 19,900 senior households each month received [the rental] subsidy. B.C. Housing reports that the average monthly payment was $175." the report states.

The report recommends the province invest more in affordable housing, and that B.C. take steps to tackle income inequality across all generations.

"We need to take action immediately to take better care of the most vulnerable seniors, because this is a problem that's only going to grow as the population ages."