For the first time ever in Canada, there are more people aged 65 and over than there are under the age of 15. And Hamilton is no different.
Canada had 35,851,800 residents at the start of July, up 308,100 people from the year before, Statistics Canada said on Tuesday. And 5,780,900 Canadians are 65 and over, compared to 5,749,400 who are under 15.
Numbers from the last five years show that Hamilton might be a bit ahead of that curve. Eight of Hamilton's 15 wards had more seniors than children in 2011.
This shift isn't a surprise, said Amanda Grenier, director of McMaster University's Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging. Medical advancements mean people are living longer.
"This is something we've been talking about for a long time and we've seen on a global level," she said. "But in Canada, this is the first time it's confirmed."
It's not a crisis either, Grenier said. It's just time to look at "how cities might look different and how our care needs might be different. It is a call to action."
Here are five ways Hamilton will be different as its population ages.
1. There will be more people with modest incomes
As people age, their income typically decreases, says Hamilton's Plan for an Age-Friendly City, a document the city and the Hamilton Council on Aging unveiled in January. In 2011, for example, Hamiltonians aged 55 to 64 had an average annual income of $48,000. For Hamiltonians over 65, that dropped to $37,000. As the elderly population grows, so will the number of Hamiltonians on limited incomes. That also means more seniors will be in the job market.
2. Fewer people will rely on cars
In Hamilton, people depend on their cars, Grenier said. "This is a call to rethink that car dependency." As seniors get older and drive less — and eventually lose their licences — the onus will fall on transit and walking.
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There are challenges. Seniors interviewed for the report said some HSR bus stops and shelters are inconveniently located and lack amenities such as benches. Some said they have trouble getting on and off the bus, and that drivers don't always consider their needs. An older Hamilton means we'll need accessible transit and complete streets.
3. We'll have to take better care of each other
As people live longer, the report says, the need for caregivers and formal support grows. The report suggests a "circle of care" or "village" model where residents help each other with companionship, light housekeeping duties, rides and trips to the grocery store. And we'll have to increase funding to agencies that do this. Right now, they work on shoestring budgets and compete with other causes for scant fundraising dollars.
4. More people will need affordable housing
Hamilton has a dwindling shortage of affordable housing. This will be more evident as seniors age and downsize from their homes. This is particular true in outlying areas such as Waterdown, Ancaster and Stoney Creek, the report says. The federal and provincial governments need to provide sustainable funding to create and maintain senior-friendly housing.
Builders are creating more condos in Hamilton, and that helps. But for them to be useful, the report says, they need to be accessible.
5. More social and recreation programs will be geared to seniors
Seniors need to stay social and active, even after they stop driving, the report says. That means more social and recreation programs for seniors, although that's more complicated than it sounds.
Seniors are a "diverse cohort," it says, and don't want to be slotted into one overall "seniors" category. They vary in terms of interest, ethnicity and activity level.
Hamilton needs more diverse programs close to seniors' homes. And they need to be diverse and include the LGBTQ community.