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Indigenous and racialized seniors have less retirement security and higher poverty rates than white seniors in Canada, according to a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Based on data from the 2016 census, the report found Indigenous seniors have an average income of $32,200 and a poverty rate of 21.5 per cent, while racialized seniors’ average income was $29,200 with a poverty rate of 19.8 per cent. By comparison, white seniors had an average income of $42,800 and a poverty rate of 13.7 per cent.

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White seniors’ income from private pension sources — such as registered pension plans and registered retirement savings plans — was 33 per cent of total income, compared to 25 per cent for Indigenous seniors and 21 per cent for racialized seniors. The report found racialized seniors are most reliant on public pensions, accounting for 40 per cent of their income, compared to 34 per cent for white seniors and 25 per cent for Indigenous seniors.

A quarter (25.7 per cent) of Indigenous households contributed to pension plans and 21.6 per cent contributed to RRSPs, with average contributions of $5,000 and $5,600, respectively. Meanwhile, 26.8 per cent of racialized households were members of pension plans and made lower average contributions ($4,700) than their white counterparts ($5,600). More than a third (36.1 per cent) of racialized households contributed to RRSPs, with an average contribution of $7,587.

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The report also recommended measures to eliminate barriers to equitable employment opportunities and increase access to workplace-based pension plans and retirement savings. In an interview with Benefits Canada, Sheila Block, senior economist for Ontario at the CCPA and the report’s co-author, says individual employers can take steps to mitigate the impacts of issues such as systemic racism and colonialism.

“Employers should take a clear-eyed look at their workforce to ensure it represents the population around them. They also need to look closely at their hiring policies, as well as their approach to promotions and what their retention policies are. With pensions, part of what’s very important is where your earnings are at and how long you stay with an employer-sponsored plan.”

And with the Canada Pension Plan and old-age security providing support to marginalized groups, improvements to these plans are another part of the solution. “As we look ahead at the changing nature of work, we need to see an increased role for [the CPP] because of its portability and its universal coverage for employees.”

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