In case you missed it (and I did, probably because I was napping), last Wednesday was the International Day of Older Persons. Designated by the United Nations back in 1990, this annual event is meant to help "promote the development of a society for all ages."
The underlying assumption of this initiative seems to be that old folks are disadvantaged and need help. While this may be true in some parts of the world, in the West it no longer applies.
I might be betraying my demographic but I think it's time we seniors started asking for less. For years now, those in the over-60 age group have been making out like bandits while the younger generations struggle to make ends meet.
Unlike in years past, there are now relatively few seniors in developed nations suffering in poverty. The iconic image of an aging widow living on cat food is today largely a myth. Older folks, for the most part, live comfortable lives.
A recent article in Maclean's highlighted the wealth gap between Canadian seniors and just about everybody else. With their indexed pensions, public healthcare, government subsidies and inflated home valuations, today's Canadian oldsters are receiving far more societal and government benefits than those under the age of 45 and are financially better off than their younger cohort.
So what's the answer? As an aging senior myself, it would probably best suit my interests if I simply shut up and just kept dining at the government benefits buffet for old folks. But somehow that doesn't seem right, especially when I see young people incur five or six-figure debts to obtain a post-secondary education only to face a struggling economy where their chances of getting a well-paid job are about the same as their chances of owning a home.
As I see it, it's time for governments to stop kowtowing to those over 60 and start providing more help to those at the other end of the age spectrum. If that means more taxes then so be it. I don't want to pay more but if I can see the additional government revenue going to help young people stay out of debt, I'm willing to do my part.
One personal irritant is the common practice of retiring seniors signing on with their previous employer even after they start drawing a generous pension. We've all seen these double-dippers milk the system for all they can. Whether it's retired teachers coming back to work as substitutes or retired government workers returning as consultants or contract workers, the bottom line is that these financially secure seniors still have their snouts in the trough long after their needs have been met.
The saddest effect of this double and sometimes even triple-dipping by oldsters is that it denies employment to qualified young people. So long as seniors insist on staying on the job or returning to work even after retiring, there will be fewer positions for new workers to compete for.
No doubt there are some instances where older folks have to keep working in order to make ends meet. But as the Maclean's article pointed out, those cases are now the exception and not the rule.
It's hard to sympathize with an over-60 individual drawing a full pension plus government benefits who returns to work in order to finance that second or third annual holiday adventure. If such individuals need additional luxuries, it might be time for them to draw on their investments or the equity in their homes and let today's younger generation get a foothold in the workplace. Perhaps it's time they let their children and grandchildren have the same opportunities they enjoyed.
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