Golden years, but tarnished

Russell Wangersky
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“A former child actor who provided the voice of Charlie Brown in several ‘Peanuts’ animated television specials from 1965 to 1969 is set to be arraigned Wednesday on charges of making threats and stalking.

“Peter Robbins, 56, who lives in Oceanside with his dog, Snoopy, was arrested at the border Monday as he was returning from Mexico. He is set to be arraigned in San Diego Superior Court on five felony charges. … A plastic surgeon obtained a restraining order against Robbins three weeks ago, claiming Robbins threatened her because he was displeased with the breast augmentation the surgeon performed on Robbins’ girlfriend, according to the North County Times.

“It was unclear whether the criminal charges involve Robbins’ alleged threats to the surgeon.”

— The Los Angeles Times,

Jan. 23.

If that short, voyeuristic little news item caught your attention, if it struck you as the loss of a small tragic and idealistic fragment of your childhood, you might be the right age to understand the pinch I’m writing about.

Sure, the “Peanuts” cartoons still crop up every year as worn and faded markers of particular holidays, but they’re essentially dusty relics in a world with far more channels and far better offerings than when they, and perhaps “The Grinch,” were the signal offerings of the season.

So if you do feel a little something poignant about hearing that the voice of Charlie Brown has found his way into an all-too-real-world story about stalking and breast augmentation, you’re probably at exactly the right age to see what I’m on about.

There’s a fundamental change coming in Canada: some of it is already here, but it’s going to become more pronounced as changes that have been winkling their way into public policy really, fully come home to roost.

It’s combination of things, from the dissolution of pension programs from defined benefit to defined contribution, to the rapid increase in house prices and the shrinking job market for young people looking for good-paying jobs. (Something that will be exacerbated by more and more older Canadians deciding to stay in the job market, because they won’t be able to retire.)

If you’re around 50, give or take five years, you can look around and see that you’re in an interesting generation: your parents, and those of others in your age cohort, are getting older, and there are more and more situations where those parents are unable to look after themselves and are also without the financial supports they used to have.

At the same time, while your children are growing up, they’re not leaving the nest, often because even if they are working, they’re financially unable to be fully independent.

But if you think the problem’s bad for your cohort, pity the one that’s coming next. At least the parents of the 50-year-old cohort still benefit from a much larger percentage of defined benefit pensions. In other words, they actually have money coming in.

Think of the situation that’s looming for the current range of 25-year-olds.

They’re facing a situation where, in all likelihood, their parents will live longer, but in the process have less to live on — and that means seniors who will depend even more on family units.

Now banks, financial institutions and even governments love to talk about the benefits of “being able to control your own retirement savings” and the inherent beauty of having all that control right there in your hands. Fact is, though, that we are not all masters of investing skill, and the only people who consistently make money off of privately managed defined contributions are the companies in the business of managing those contributions, and, win or lose, skimming off their tasty management fees.

As governments and companies slip their responsibilities, they win financial points for themselves — and the freight involved slips to the only remaining unit. Families.

Right now, financial institutions are fond of calling the current 50-year-olds the “sandwich” generation, because they are caught between the financial needs of their parents and the financial needs of their children.

Sandwiches, though, are better eating than a lot of things.

Wait until those parents and their specific health needs move in for dinner — and move in full time, at that. Welcome to the anthill generation.

One interesting thought about the diminished expectations of the next generation of seniors — while corporate leaders and governments trumpet the values of self-managed defined contribution pensions (pensions most of us have very little cash to contribute to), they themselves still maintain memberships in the ever-more-exclusive defined benefit club.

Hard to believe that they’re not so keen for that wonderful control that we’re all supposed to be clamouring for — nor are they keen to work for peanuts.

Remember not that long ago, when a finance minister making gobs of money told us there were no bad jobs?

Maybe you remember the halting sound of Charlie Brown’s voice with fondness. One thing you might remember equally fondly is a structure where seniors had their own financial independence, albeit living carefully and frugally on their pensions.

Then the stalking and the breast augmentation comes in, and the whole darned golden-years dream goes up in smoke.

This is an economic change we’re not going to see until it hits. Then there will be no chance of ever turning it back, and the politicians who brought it to us will be happily enjoying something markedly different.

We’ve been sold a bill of goods — we just haven’t taken delivery yet.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: North County Times, Los Angeles Times

Geographic location: Oceanside, Mexico, San Diego Superior Court Canada

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Recent comments

  • saelcove
    January 28, 2013 - 13:04

    To bad you do not know anyone in government

  • Stop the erosion of the "Middle Class".
    January 26, 2013 - 08:39

    Mr. Wangersky it mystifies me how the citizens of the so-called democracies, like Canada are allowing their ruling politicians to have full control over everything once they take command. We here in this province have seen our ruler being chosen by the predecessors, who had everything put in place for the development of several natural resources belonging to the people. The people of the province will not benefit from the development of those resources one iota, simply because the developers will have the resources being developed paid for by the electorate in order to provide cheap electricity to the other company that will be digging the ore out of the ground and shipping it out in the raw state for processing . In order to fix this we, the electorate, will have to take control and stop this process by our government leaders in order to bring back a healthy 'middle class' . The destruction of the 'middle class' is what is what is causing the demographic that you speak of in your article. We have and our Opposition Parties must demand that our politicians construct an "anti corruption" commission to aid and abet our Auditor General in his/her quest to make government more accountable. Just words from the Opposition parties are not enough, they have to take control and make things happen. We Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can be the forerunners in stopping the so-called Democracies from being eroded any further.

  • Herb Morrrison
    January 26, 2013 - 07:49

    I will turn 65 later this year. I have no major health-related issues. I have attained academic credits at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and can provide a Certificate of Conduct at any level. I am also computer literate. Despite my qualifications, I am unable to obtain permanent employment either full or part-time. Since it would be illegal for a perspective employer to refuse to hire me on the basis of age, I can only speculate that my age is at least part of the reason why I am not able to be gainfully employed. I wonder how many people who read your paper find themselves in a similar situation. I also wonder why Governments at all levels are not doing more to encourage employers to hire people who are not quite ready for the rocking chair?