Our environment was in the spotlight last week during Environment Week activities, but there was another awareness week taking place celebrating some of our other valuable natural resources.
It was the 30th anniversary of Seniors’ Week in Alberta, held to highlight how seniors make a difference in our communities every day. And they make a big difference.
There has been much in the media in recent years about the greying of the population. Often, the reports focus on how the “grey tsunami” will impact the country’s growing health-care costs.
But seniors contribute a great deal to our society, too. They pay taxes, they help drive the economy with consumer purchases, and they make up a large portion of the volunteer base. Figures from Statistics Canada indicate that seniors volunteer an average of 223 hours annually, more than any other age group.
An article for Evidence Network by Verena Menec (evidencenetwork.ca) notes that seniors contribute more in charitable donations per capita than any other age group. They also look after their grandchildren, do housework, yard work and home maintenance for themselves and others, and often serve as caregivers for their spouses or others.
A 2013 report called “Gifts of a Lifetime: The Contributions of Older Canadians,” by a trio of University of Alberta researchers in partnership with the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (SAGE) Advocacy Committee, indicated that, according to Statistics Canada, in 2007 nearly one million Canadians 65 or older provided care to others, and 82,000 of those were Albertans. It’s also striking that more than one-third of those caregivers (35 per cent) were over the age of 75.
That report also stated: “Contrary to what many people believe, older parents provide more support to children than they receive (Turcotte & Schellenberg, 2007). Older parents continue to provide their adult children with financial and emotional support (Neysmith & Reitsma-Street, 2009).”
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) points out on its website, “Up to 35 per cent of grandparents who share their homes with either their children or their children and their grandchildren are financial providers, not financial drains.”
Many seniors are still in the workforce, where they’re valuable not only because of their experience, but because in many sectors there’s a shortage of workers.
Clearly, the vast majority of senior citizens — even those who are retired — are not just sitting on the sidelines. Research shows that, as a group, they are more politically informed and active than the younger age groups. Figures from Elections Canada shows that in the 2011 general election, voter turnout among Canadians age 65-74 was just over 75 per cent, almost twice the participation rate of the 18-24 age group (at 38.8 per cent). Even the turnout rate among those 75 and over (60.3 per cent) put the younger voters to shame.
While stereotypes of senior citizens might suggest they aren’t as engaged with the world as younger Canadians, the findings show the opposite is true. In many areas, it’s seniors in our communities who keep things running.
There’s much to celebrate about our older citizens; let’s appreciate their contributions all year long.