The first-ever report into a living income for seniors in the Northwest Territories suggests many of those who live alone, or who are renting, may not have enough cash to make ends meet.
The report, commissioned by the NWT Seniors’ Society and produced by economist Michel Haener, outlines the annual income needed for seniors – defined in the document as those aged 65 or older – to afford a decent standard of living.
Four communities featured in the study: Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River, and Inuvik.
“Seniors who live alone face higher living costs, particularly higher rent cost, because – as we know – rent is high across the North,” said Suzette Montreuil, executive director of the NWT Seniors’ Society.
“It really shows the impact that public housing has. If [seniors] lived in a market rental, none of the communities showed an income level where they could make ends meet.”
Montreuil said the report demonstrated the importance of subsidy programs – like public housing and healthcare coverage – to northern seniors.
“We want to give the territorial government a chance to have a look at the data, and to see that there are still really needs for seniors,” she said. “Particularly for those living alone, and that’s often the case if they’ve lost their spouse or something like that.”
This is the first such report the NWT Seniors’ Society has produced. Montreuil unveiled a similar report looking at the living wage, also featuring Haener’s work, in her role as a member of Alternatives North earlier this month.
Biggest gap in Inuvik
In 2016’s federal census, about 12 percent of NWT residents were aged 60 or older. That is expected to rise to almost 16 percent of the population by 2035.
Currently, according to the report, the average senior living alone and renting in Yellowknife receives $30,437 in a year – $2,829 less than the minimum “living income” identified by Haener.
However, an average retired couple owning their own home in Yellowknife receives $41,422, more than the $38,188 living income threshold.
Only in Inuvik would an average couple owning their home find their income below that threshold, the report stated.
The biggest income gap for seniors is for those who live alone and rent in Inuvik. They would receive, on average, almost $10,000 less than they require to meet the living income minimum of $41,228.
The report acknowledges that seniors in smaller, remote communities are likely to face still higher costs – but, like the recent Alternatives North living wage report, Haener said the data to accurately study life in smaller communities was not available.
The study looked at annual expenses on food, shelter and utilities, clothing and footwear, transportation, healthcare (those elements not covered under available programs), a contingency fund, and a range of other household costs.
Income was assumed to come from old age security pension and guaranteed income supplement, Canada pension plan, NWT senior citizens’ supplementary benefit, and the NWT seniors’ home heating subsidy.