Too much avocado toast isn’t the reason younger Canadians have a hard time getting a start on their retirement savings.

Canadian millennials are “literally working and studying more to have less” than their parents and grandparents, according to Paul Kershaw, associate professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, speaking on at Franklin Templeton Investments Corp. retirement event at the Shangri-La hotel in Toronto on Wednesday.

Read: Younger workers more willing to make trade-off in benefits plans

As such, it’s no wonder younger Canadians can’t find the time and money to devote to using the tools the government and their employers have set up to help them save for retirement, said Kershaw. The desire to create a happy home life squeezes them on the time side, while higher costs for childcare, student debt and housing put pressure on their wallets. Whenever there’s a trade-off between saving for retirement and filling one of those more immediate needs, Kershaw noted it’s clear people will go for the issue that’s in front of them right now.

Currently, skyrocketing home prices are the biggest reason the economic landscape is a far more treacherous one for young professionals seeking to achieve financial stability. “What’s been good for my mom’s home ownership has been bad for her grandchildren’s generation,” said Kershaw.

To put the situation in numerical terms, in 1976, it took an average of five years for a working Canadian to save enough for a 20 per cent down payment on a home. Today, that average has gone up to 13 years, countrywide, with urban centres like the greater Toronto area and metropolitan Vancouver going up to 20 and 27 years, respectively.

Read: Prof touts the many ways companies can make workplaces better for younger employees

There’s no point in forcing Canadians to save unless policy changes are also made to ease the financial burdens they face in other areas of life, said Kershaw. “What fundamentally drives the standard of living is how much can you sell your labour for in the marketplace and how far can you stretch those earnings in the marketplace to cover your major cost of living,” he said. “Those things are deteriorating dramatically in this country for a younger demographic, which then makes it fundamentally more challenging to imagine having the dollars to set aside in your own retirement plan.”

Since housing is the biggest piece of that monetary pie, policy-makers need to take action to shift Canada’s understanding of the value of its real estate, said Kershaw. The concept that a residential piece of property is a home first and an asset second is key to that perspective.

In Ontario and British Columbia, especially, it’s temping to view the value that the real estate sector adds as a positive factor in Canada’s economic health, he said. However, those growth numbers come with the caveat that the real estate market doesn’t actually provide jobs or corresponding earnings.

Kershaw argued government spending, as it currently stands, gives a disproportionate advantage to Canadians aged 65 and older, with an average allocation of $33,000 per person, as opposed to $12,000 for those under 45. In addition to incurring far higher medical costs for the government, older Canadians benefit from significant tax shelters. That made sense when there was a much larger number of seniors living in poverty, but older Canadians are now much better off, said Kershaw.

Read: Millennials, managers more likely to report mental-health struggles

“We need our governments to meet us halfway in adaptation,” he said, noting policy-makers need to rethink the distribution of government funds in order to help younger Canadians boost their financial prospects so that starting to save for retirement is even on on their radar, said Kershaw.

Policy solutions, he suggested, include encouraging further density, reducing the factors that lead to empty homes or short-term rentals and planning for wealth accumulation programs that cater to renters.

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

Benefits Canada Newsletter

For the latest industry news and opinions, sign up for our daily newsletter.

See all comments Recent Comments

Denyse Lynch:

The article comments on managers, millennials more likely to report on mental-health struggles. It is TIME, in fact, long overdue, that, to quote Bell Canada, people “are talking”… but we know, people’s mental health also impacts and has positive or negative effects on physical health, not to mention, overall well-being and quality of life.

An important issue, surprisingly missing, from this article is a very real and growing pre-occupation for millennials – health care policies – a health care system that works for them, their parents i.e. seniors’ health care!

Millennials are already struggling, burdened with both worry and caring for their parents, grandparents. And, Organizations have been spending money on benefits that address these millennials’ needs. We have to add these stresses, that are and will continue to impact their mental, emotional health. The government needs to address health care for seniors – already in crisis, causing burnout for some millennials and putting strain on those who work in the system and rising health care system costs, taxpayers bear and which they also worry. The aging demographic is the biggest threat to our society’s well-being and functioning. Without a comprehensive effective, sustainable and cost effective health care system, all organizations’ productivity and innovation will be negatively impacted.

This, in turn, negatively impacts our economy and our society’s overall well-being. We have no more time and no more money to waste.

Friday, November 10 at 12:25 pm | Reply

Add a comment

Have your say on this topic! Comments that are thought to be disrespectful or offensive may be removed by our Benefits Canada admins. Thanks!

* These fields are required.
Field required
Field required
Field required