What does the Mockingjay teach Generation Squeeze?

In parallel to the work that the Intergenerational Foundation does in the UK, Generation Squeeze campaigns for intergenerational fairness in Canada. In this call to action, Dr Paul Kershaw, of the University of British Columbia and Founder of Generation Squeeze, tells us why it is needed, and why it needs all the support it can getIF_Blog_Gen_Squeeze_logo

Ever wanted to change something for the better in your community or country? Uncertain where to start? Or doubt what one person can do?

Such aspiration and uncertainty is the subject of great stories we tell about the heroes who inspire us. Think of the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, or The Hunger Games: at the beginning, neither Frodo nor Katniss had heroic intentions. They were regular folks like the rest of us, facing circumstances they didn’t like, who courageously stepped forward to contribute a solution.

En route to saving Middle-earth and the Districts, both Frodo and the Mockingjay needed help to achieve the extraordinary. A special gift or power.

Frodo received a sword that shines brightly as danger nears. A fellowship of fighters handy with a blade. Even the one ring to rule them all.

Sponsors provided the Mockingjay with tools and medicines to survive the Hunger Games. People designed her fancy bows and arrows. She even made alliances with competitors.

Such characters are not so different from the rest of us in the real world. We are all Potential Changemakers. With the right tools and alliances, we too can bring about the extraordinary.

Tools for heroes-in-waiting

That is the raison d’être for Generation Squeeze: to amplify the hero in Canadians in our 20s, 30s and 40s – for ourselves, our children, our communities and planet.

In support of this quest, Gen Squeeze offers two tools to empower the hero-in-waiting within us all:

  1. a generational spyglass; and
  2. a treasure map.

The Spyglass clarifies how circumstances have deteriorated for younger Canadians. Even though the economy has doubled in size since 1976,

  • we are now squeezed by full-time incomes that are down thousands of dollars, despite devoting more time to post-secondary education, and starting with larger student debt for the privilege;
  • we are squeezed by housing prices that are up hundreds of thousands of dollars;
  • squeezed by less time at home when we start our families, and childcare services that cost more than university tuition;
  • squeezed by larger government debt than our parents inherited, and added costs to clean our air, water and soil and to cope with the risks of climate change.

The Spyglass makes us more powerful by showing we are not alone. Hard work doesn’t pay off like it did in the past. It’s no young person’s fault that incomes are down thousands, or housing up hundreds of thousands. That’s bad timing, not a personal failure.

But if we are not doing something wrong personally, if something bigger is going on, if there are millions of other Canadians – entire generations – feeling the squeeze, then we can move from anxiety to confidence. Confident enough to SQUEEZE BACK – to make lemonade from the lemon we’ve been dealt.

Which brings me to the treasure map.

Generational changes

Like the UK, Canada has a proud history of building and adapting public policy to solve big problems that individuals cannot fix alone.

A generation ago, nearly one in three seniors in our country were poor – too likely to go bankrupt when they wound up sick at a hospital, and too unlikely to be able to stretch income into retirement after a career, especially of caregiving.

We decided it didn’t need to be this way in Canada. So we built our medical care system and system of old age security. Together these policy changes brought down low income rates for seniors to lower than any other age group in the country.

As a result, Canadian governments now combine to spend over $33k a year per retiree on medical care and old age security – things that my mother and 99 year old grandmother depend on.

But by contrast, governments spend less than $12k annually per person in their mid-40s and under.

This trend was reinforced by all political parties during our recent federal election. By comparison with the new dollars all four national parties promised for retirees, they all offered only pocket change to Generation Squeeze, even though we are the ones primarily squeezed by lower incomes, higher costs, less time and a riskier environment.

Happily, better is always possible. We can adapt urgently for ageing parents and grandparents, and adapt urgently for their children and grandchildren.

Research shows that a small change to the age gap in government spending – an increase of $1,000 per person under the age of 45 – can make the difference between many young Canadians clinging on to get by, and getting a toehold from which hard work can carry us to greater heights.

Research also shows that, if pooled to invest in the expensive moments in our lives, this modest change can be enough to save us tens of thousands of dollars. This won’t compensate for incomes that are thousands annually and housing prices that are up hundreds of thousands, but it is enough to pay off the average student debt; reduce by years the time it takes to pay for a home; afford a better work-life balance; plan for retirement; and do all of this while leaving at least as much as we inherited.

Just as importantly, research also shows that we can do this without necessarily changing what we invest in our ageing population.

You might be wondering: Do Canadian governments ever find an extra $1,000 per person in an age group? Answer: Yes, just not for younger Canadians. Take this year, for example. Federal and provincial governments combined to add $938 per retiree, but only a fraction of that for younger Canadians. Why? Because politics is not entirely broken. Politics still responds to those who organise and show up. And our parents and grandparents organise politically better than we do.

The lessons of CARP: get active!

For decades, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) has been lobbying for Canadians aged 50+, and to good effect, achieving benefits for my mom and grandmother.

So long as older Canadians have a strong lobby, younger Canadians deserve one too.

I know. Many of us are cynical about Big Tobacco or Big Pharmaceutical or Big Fossil Fuel companies lobbying for shareholders, not citizens. But that’s the beauty of CARP: our parents and grandparents remind us that, with transparency and accountability, lobbying for citizens – not shareholders – is a normal and, dare I say, noble part of democracy.

So it’s time we all ask: How can a national, non-partisan, science-based lobby make each one of us more influential?

There are two types of lobbying, and Gen Squeeze wants both working for younger Canada.

The first is the Suit Up approach. At the end of a long day, when you’re tired and don’t feel like you have the energy to speak up on your behalf, you can count on being part of a team – a team suiting up for you in meetings at parliament, talking to decision-makers of all party stripes about the problems squeezing younger generations, as well as the policy adaptations that exist.

The second type of lobbying is “Grassroots lobbying” – the Spread Out approach. It means educating and mobilising each other so that we all coordinate in contacting our public officials, thought leaders and media to voice opinions in chorus.

With over 300,000 members, CARP is as large as Canadian political parties. Once Gen Squeeze catches up and keeps pace with the CARP goal of a million members, we’ll bring balance to the world of politics. We’ll use research, relationships and political incentives to ensure the platforms of all parties make it a greater priority to ease the squeeze on younger Canadians.

By doing so, we’ll mobilise the one asset that can out-compete deep pockets in a democracy: well organised people power.

In sum, by building together a lobby for citizens, not shareholders, the hero waiting inside all of us can become a changemaker on a grand, national scale.

Heroes who squeeze back for ourselves, our families, our communities and country.

Heroes who want a chance to live up to our potential, and the opportunity to work together to leave our country and planet better off than we found it.

A time for heroes

This is a time for heroes in Canada. Our economy produces more prosperity than ever before, but too many younger Canadians feel we can’t make a go of it where we grew up, or trained. We need heroes to change this.

Canada’s economy produces more prosperity than ever before, but many younger Canadians feel we can’t afford to start our own families, or don’t have enough time when we do. We need heroes to change this.

Canada’s economy produces more prosperity than ever before, but leaves the cost of cleaning our air, water and soil, and of coping with climate change, to younger Canadians. We need heroes to change this too.

We need heroes to make Canada work for all generations.

 Suiting up and spreading out with a national lobby may not seem akin to the one ring to rule them all, or the Mockingjay’s bow, but it can be just as powerful – powerful enough to safeguard the medical care and old age security on which our parents and grandparents depend while adapting policy to ease the squeeze for ourselves and our children.

That’s why thousands and thousands of Canadians are now joining, becoming Lobby Builders today at gensqueeze.ca – to Suit Up, Spread Out and Squeeze Back.