When you place the needs of others before your own
March 17, 2023 8:24 AM   Subscribe

How we are failing older women in Canada

“You know, there’s just this automatic assumption that if you can’t afford it, then you probably don’t deserve it because you didn’t work hard enough, you didn’t plan, you probably spent your money. I never spent any money. I had two kids, who spends money when they have two kids?”

While this article focuses on Canadian women, it shouldn't have to be said that this issue affects older women everywhere.
posted by Kitteh (17 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
My MIL worked very hard her whole life, in professional positions, but also went through a brutal bankruptcy + divorce (both initiated by my FIL), and in her 50s supported my SIL's family.

Anyways, as a result she lives with us and it is truly a joy on many levels...but knowing where her finances are at, especially right now, I'm very glad she's not trying to make rent.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:35 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]

I have no doubt that this is a real problem, but the woman that the writer has chosen as an example is really not helping her case. She has roughly $2500 a month in income (OAS, GIS, partial CPP) plus $500,000 in savings, plus some additional savings? At age 80, this does not sound like a particularly difficult situation, even in Toronto. I think this might speak more to the reporter's social milieu and biases than the reality of the kind of poverty that elderly people in Canada actually live in.
posted by ssg at 8:52 AM on March 17 [9 favorites]

Archive link
posted by Kitteh at 9:04 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

The average rental cost of a 1-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $2532/month.
posted by eviemath at 9:09 AM on March 17 [7 favorites]

Women over 55 are the fastest-growing homeless group in Australia at the moment.

Often what happened is that they took unpaid time off work to raise their kids - and then after a divorce, they were left without enough assets for retirement.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 9:18 AM on March 17 [11 favorites]

I posted this article because I am seeing the impact of this in my own life, and the article clarifies for me that I didn't think about nor truly understand in terms of motherhood and the sacrifices moms end up making.

My mom could not afford to be a stay at home mom when I was growing up. She always worked in healthcare admin my entire life, with my late stepfather being the primary breadwinner with his job. I have said in a recent thread that they were crap with money. We never owned a house, we dodged debt collector calls, and while we had a roof over our head and food in our bellies, I could not say why my parents were in debt. Well, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's a few years after I moved to Atlanta. It was manageable for a while and my mom continued to work, but now part time, and I guess they were receiving income from somewhere in re: my stepdad.

A few years later, she had to retire from the workforce because she had a new role: primary caregiver of her husband, whose deterioration was accelerating. No new income came in, what income was coming in wasn't enough, and their housing was provided by a condo my BIL owned. He charged them less than market rate for rent. Mom's wasn't the kind of job that provided pension and I am pretty sure their tenuous money situation for most of my life contributed to the fact she never had a 401K. They started going to cheque cashing places to get advances for food, utilities.

He passed away in 2018. I spent some time with my mom afterwards, untangling what was legitimately her debt, and what had been his. My BIL evicted her from the condo, and she had to find a 1 bedroom apartment. She did find one, and was paying under $1k for a few years, and now it's over that. Her only income is Social Security and a minute cheque from my stepdad's Social Security. She has no savings. She relies on Medicaid for healthcare. She has lost her hearing, I think her memory's starting to go too, and we occasionally send her money when she can't make rent or buy food (CAD to USD is brutal tho) but what happens when what she has isn't enough to live independently?

It's my new primary worry. I don't know what will happen if the COL keeps outpacing her. I know I don't have enough income to fully support a parent from afar.
posted by Kitteh at 9:46 AM on March 17 [9 favorites]

I've never been married or had kids, which cuts both ways in terms of fears of growing old poor and alone. On the one hand, it means I have been paying for everything my whole life, which is expensive as hell compared to sharing space with a spouse. On the other hand, I also never gave up my career to raise kids, so at least whatever I have got is mine and my earning power is decent.

But I had to help my mom buy a place recently because she can't afford to rent in today's market and that basically wiped out all my savings. There's essentially zero chance I will ever own my own place until she dies (hopefully decades from now) and I can get my equity back out of this place. It is such an old condo, though, that I worry that by the time we need to sell it, it will be essentially valueless. Am I going to find that I sacrificed my own retirement for hers? I don't know. I just know that at the time I didn't have any other good choices.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:54 AM on March 17 [10 favorites]

She's living in a room in a basement for $1410 a month. She doesn't want to touch the $500,000 if she can help it because she expects to live a long time and things will pop up where she will need it. If she had bought a house in Hamilton when she got the $500,000 a decade ago she'd be sitting pretty but while the answer to all wealth problems in Canada is buy a property 10 years ago that isn't actually a helpful answer now.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:58 AM on March 17 [7 favorites]

We got pretty lucky in that we're probably not fucked. I'm a Canadian immigrant and I haven't worked since I got here, which means I get no benefits from anyone. My partner has excellent prospects for pensions because of employment in education and civil service. We bought a condo 5 years ago based on buying a house 20 years ago based on buying another house 30 years ago. Our mortgage payments are just this side of dire and yet if we're frugal, we have some extra money each month. My partner will probably have to work until they're mid-60s to finish the mortgage, after which we'll still be paying condo fees. Which is a fair deal because condo fees to a well run condo means you don't have to worry about sudden major maintenance costs, plus there are on-site amenities we would not be able to afford otherwise. But we only got here with a lot of luck on top of the hard work. There's some rainy day money set aside. We figure we'll be okay with the pensions. We do have a disabled adult child living with us, which makes the space too small. And because of absolutely fuckery from the Ontario government, they're not receiving a full disability benefit. Which would only be "up to" $1228 a month.

sigh. we're okay. it's not great. but we live close to health care and friends and don't need a car. we've both been dirt poor, we know how to manage our finances, we have our physical and mental health, and we have it so much better than many. and i still feel like we're just hanging on, barely.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:30 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]

Kitteh, apologies if you've already looked into this: your mom may be eligible to collect more from Social Security based off your stepfather's lifetime earnings, or based off your dad's lifetime earnings (if they were married more than 10 years). Social Security Survivor Benefits. More info about the earlier marriage and eligibility: "If you are age 62, unmarried, and divorced from someone entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you may be eligible to receive benefits based on their record. [....] You must have been married to your ex-spouse for 10 years or more. If you’ve remarried, you can’t collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ended by annulment, divorce, or death. Also, if you’re entitled to benefits on your own record, your benefit amount must be less than you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work. In other words, we’ll pay the higher of the two benefits for which you’re eligible, but not both."
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:26 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]

Not to derail from the contents of the article per se but when I saw the the subhed,
especially those with careers that paid enough to get by but did not offer workplace pensions
my first thought was: who, outside of certain kinds of civil servants, gets pensions these days?

to quote ssg,

> this might speak more to the reporter's social milieu and biases
posted by pmv at 11:29 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

This is a complicated subject for me. My mom recently "retired", if you can still call it that when she never worked at a full-time job (and very rarely part-time) for her entire life. So she actually has zero CPP, only GIS and OAS. Zero savings, large student loans remaining from her semi-recent, mostly-finished arts degree that didn't lead to any jobs, no home equity or other assets. Until "retiring", she was supported by spouses or lived on student loans or welfare. Needless to say, she would be in huge trouble if she hadn't married someone recently who seems to be able to support her, hopefully for the long term. I'm very low contact with her for many good reasons so I wasn't looking forward to making some hard choices in the future (living with us will absolutely never be on the table, and I'm not wealthy enough to support her in a very meaningful way, but I'd rather not see her homeless either). It's kinda interesting from that perspective to see what the article considers an impoverished senior (though the effects of ridiculously high COL on seniors is a whole other valuable topic).

Seeing that experience is definitely part of the reason I'm very firmly against leaving the workforce for longer than a standard maternity leave, although I know many people return after only a few years and almost nobody leaves it forever like she did. Even in a country with a (small) safety net like Canada, you can still end up in a very rough place if you take the wrong path.
posted by randomnity at 12:42 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

The average rental cost of a 1-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $2532/month.

For reference, this is over three times what my flatmate and I were paying when I moved away from Toronto less than twenty years ago.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:20 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I am a divorced, childless, pensionless middle-aged woman, so don't think that these issues don't keep me up at night. But! With $500,000 invested 50% equities/50% bonds, this woman could safely withdraw $20,000/year for the rest of her life. Combined with her other income that would be $50,000/year. That's enough to provide a decent standard of living anywhere.
posted by HotToddy at 2:46 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

pmv, we’re talking about women who have already retired, so the comparison is who outside of civil servants, got pensions 10-45 years ago.
posted by eviemath at 4:44 PM on March 17

Why are we minutely dissecting the woman's finances and ignoring the elephant in the room: she is paying $1400+ for a 216 sq foot apartment! My graduate school dorm room was substantially bigger than that.

This is the true story: who the heck is profiting off of her? Her building has 12 units and hers is the smallest - so someone is probably making 10+k per month off the tenants. More if there has been high turnover, since Ontario has no rent control between tenants.

Let's stop thinking, oh, if only she'd done X or she should have done Y. She would be just fine if she had affordable housing, or even just reasonably priced housing.
posted by jb at 2:48 AM on March 19 [10 favorites]

jb you are exactly right. I'm just obsessed with figuring out how much money it will take me personally to survive old age, but of course the real problem is middle-aged and elderly women having to obsess about how much money it will take to survive old age.
posted by HotToddy at 12:30 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]

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