NB budget fails to recognize young people being left behind

Premier postpones making decisions affecting seniors while cutting $7 million from post-secondary budget


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Contact Paul

VANCOUVER, B.C. Feb. 4, 2016/ Troy Media/ — At 33, New Brunswick’s Brian Gallant is Canada’s youngest premier. But despite his youthful age, his province’s new budget shows his top spending priority is the needs of an aging population.

In 2016, New Brunswick will spend $2.6 billion on health care, $1.1 billion on grade school and early child development, $610 million on post-secondary and other training, and $1.2 billion for services for persons with disabilities, seniors and families. As a result, the provincial government will increase spending in these areas by $98 million after inflation – even as the population declines.

Most of the new spending ($60 million) will go to those aged 65 and over. This reflects that the province budgets nearly twice as much for each senior as each younger citizen.

Specifically, the provincial government will spend around $11,342 for each of its 148,000 citizens age 65 and over and only $6,323 for each of the 374,000 New Brunswickers under 45. When combined with federal and municipal spending, governments spend in total over $33,000 per person age 65+ compared to less than $12,000 per person under age 45.

Medical care is at the heart of this age gap. Fifty-five per cent of the $2.6-billion health-care budget will go to the 20 per cent of the population age 65-plus. This means medical care for seniors costs more than the entire education and early child development budget, and is more than double all post-secondary, training and labour spending.

As 4,900 more New Brunswickers join the 65-plus age category this year, the provincial government is budgeting an extra $405 per retiree to cover costs that come with aging.

To pay for some of this increase, the government will raise the HST to match rates in Nova Scotia, and increase corporate taxes to match Newfoundland.

While the government concedes it has identified a number of options to save money on seniors care, nursing homes and other medical care, it has postponed making any decisions until its Council of Aging reports back.

Interestingly, the premier didn’t similarly postpone any decision on post-secondary spending. After inflation, the province will cut $7 million from its budget. So post-secondary has contributed part of the extra $43 million allocated to seniors medical care.

While grade school and early child development received some extra funding, the dollars, especially for child care, pale in comparison with the much larger increases in seniors’ health care.

All of us with aging parents and grandparents admire Gallant’s efforts to protect spending for retirees. But the age breakdown in his 2016 budget reveals that the recently launched Council on Aging is focused too narrowly. What is really needed is a Council on Generational Equity.

Yes, it’s a big deal that 20 per cent of New Brunswickers are age 65-plus, especially when you consider that seniors represent only 11 per cent of Alberta’s population.

But the aging of the population is only one important demographic factor.

Equally important is that the typical young person earns around $5,000 less per year for full-time work than the same age person did between 1976 and 1980, taking inflation into account. Young people earn less today even though they are twice as likely to have post-secondary education, and pay $3,200 more in yearly tuition compared to 1976, after adjusting for inflation.

To compensate for lower earnings and to pursue gender equality, New Brunswick women under age 45 work at nearly double the hours of women in 1976. The resulting squeeze on time and money for young families today should be mitigated by provincial budgets that invest more in child care services and other work-family balance measures. And these budgets should be at a level that matches recent increases to medical care.

Presently, New Brunswick sits near the bottom of international rankings for investments in the generations raising young children, along with other Canadian provinces.

Such poor rankings provide all the more reason to revise the Council on Aging’s mandate to include generational equity. It’s imperative for New Brunswick to work for all generations at the very moment that the number of workers available to support the aging population is in decline.

Dr. Paul Kershaw is a policy professor in the UBC School of Population Health, and founder of [popup url=”http://gensqueeze.ca/” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]Generation Squeeze[/popup]. Gen Squeeze is building a powerful political force for Canadians in their 20s, 30s, 40s and their children to match the important lobbying that CARP has performed for decades on behalf of Canadians age 50-plus.

Paul is a Troy Media contributor. [popup url=”http://www.troymedia.com/become-a-troy-media-contributor/” height=”600″ width=”600″ scrollbars=”0″] Why aren’t you?[/popup]

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.

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