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by Eden Debebe

The economic inequality between white people and racialized and Indigenous peoples continues into old age, according to a new study that revealed high poverty rates and low retirement incomes for marginalized seniors in Canada.

Colour Coded Retirement is a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) paper that uses data from the 2016 census to provide an analysis of seniors’ income and retirement savings among Canadian seniors aged 65 years and older that considers Indigeneity, racialization and gender.

“When we do this intersectional analysis, we realize that racial barriers, discriminations throughout one’s entire career, throughout one’s entire life, has this cumulative impact,” said political economist and CCPA senior researcher Ricardo Tranjan.

According to Tranjan, the pay gap many female, Indigenous and racialized workers are facing in Canada’s labour market is one of the biggest factors preventing these marginalized groups from investing in their futures.



White seniors, in comparison, enjoy the highest retirement security with an average income of $42,800 which is 25 per cent higher than the average income of Indigenous seniors’ and 32 per cent higher than the average income of racialized seniors in Canada.

“The pattern we’re seeing here is that one group managed to build some sort of security throughout their careers and then by the time they’re 65, they can count on slightly different sources of income, all combining to provide the kind of security that they’re hoping for,” Tranjan said.

“The other groups; they haven’t been able to build that security.”

Public pension sources like the Canada Pension Plan and private pension sources like registered pension plans and RRSPs account for roughly 66 per cent of the average white senior’s retirement income in Canada. In comparison, nearly half of marginalized seniors’ retirement income comes from public pension programs alone (40 per cent for racialized seniors and 47 per cent for Indigenous seniors).

“What this study has shown us is the absolute importance of the public pension plans, be it CPP or old age security, these programs are incredibly important in trying to address, at least in part, this inequality that we’ve seen,” Tranjan said.

“These programs have to be maintained, these programs have to be preserved and improved where possible.

Although the CCPA paper focuses on the average income rates for Indigenous and racialized seniors, Tranjan warns the income disparities between each diverse group shouldn’t be ignored.

In Indigenous groups, First Nations participation in pension plans is sharply lower than Métis and Inuit households. Amongst the racialized groups covered in the report, Chinese seniors have both the lowest income at an average of $28,200 and the highest poverty rate at 25 per cent. 



Tranjan says these kinds of disparities showcase the importance of taking an intersectional approach to both data gathering and solution making.

“We have to look at government programs that are assumed to work for everyone, but are not working for everyone,” Tranjan said.

“We have a program in place that we are assumed will help everyone to build some security for their retirement, but in fact it is only helping a portion of the population. So we have to kind of respect the design of these programs and think about whether or not they are really the best way to help.