We all want something better for our kids. It’s in the nature of parents.
But if we increasingly feel that things are tougher for our children than they were for us, we are right.
Dr. Paul Kershaw from the University of British Columbia Generation Squeeze project came to Terrace recently to speak at Northwest Community College.
He was very clear about how tough things are for the generation that is now stepping into adulthood and, hopefully, parenthood. And he has an idea about how we could make things better for them.
Just how bad is it for our kids? Compared to 1976 their wages are down, from $23.41 an hour to $20.77 an hour.
We always told our kids to stay in school and they have. Now, 67 per cent are now post-secondary graduates compared to 30 per cent of the baby boomers and they are entering adulthood with bigger student debts, $23,000 vs. $16,000.
As they enter the workforce and are thinking of their first home, it is far more expensive, $362.894 vs. $198,005.
We had to save for five years to get that first down payment on a house. Our children will have to save for 15 years according to Dr. Kershaw.
If they take time off to have a child, it will cost them $15,000 a year in lost income. If they need child care, there are spaces for only 1 in 3 children and the cost of that care is more than the amount our children need to repay their tuition debt.
Now we might still be tempted to tell our kids to buckle down and get to it. Problem is, they already have.
On average, Canadians work 300 hours more a year than Germans, or Dutch, or Norwegians. That’s seven and a half extra weeks a year.
Two incomes are now bringing in less than the average household income a generation ago when often there was only one wage earner.
Our children are studying longer and working longer in order to have less. Their higher debt plus the time needed to work for adequate income plus the cost of services are combining to make it unaffordable for our children to have their own children. What to do?
Dr. Kershaw suggests two affordable family policies: create 18 months of supported parental leave and create a system that can offer high-quality, accessible child care for $10 a day.
These policies would save the typical young family about $50,000 over their children’s first five years. That’s enough to make parent’s combined work week a more do-able 70 hours, (instead of 80).
It’s enough to allow them to pay off an average student debt and reduce the time it takes to save a 20% down payment on a house by 4 years.
It also allows couples to grow $141,000 in retirement income. None of this makes it as easy for our children as it was for us but it’s a start. Is it affordable?
Yes. We can do this by investing an additional $1,000 of government spending per year per citizen under the age of 45.
We already pay $45,000 in government services per citizen over 65, (as opposed to $12,000 for citizens under 45).
No one wants to take anything away from our senior generation. They have contributed to their communities and their country for their lifetimes. But everyone wants to give our children a better start. As they step up as the wage earners and parents of the present, they deserve our support.
We have developed into a society that requires both parents work in order to bring home the same income as a generation ago.
Young couples already come into parenting with higher debt and face a longer road before they can own a home.
They need social support to have our grandchildren and we can afford it. Tell your MLA. Tell your MP. Visit gensqueeze.ca
Robert Hart teaches social policy at UNBC in Terrace, B.C.