Back to work: Recent retiree job hunting as pension, government benefits come up short

Retirement is supposed to be a time for seniors to rest and relax, but that hasn't been the case for one recent Winnipeg retiree — he's had to return to work just to pay the bills. Experts say that's becoming more common.

Financial expert, seniors' group say retiring becoming harder for most Canadians

Campbell Alexander, a recent Winnipeg retiree, says he's facing a monthly financial shortfall and is now looking for part-time gigs to get by. (Darin Morash/CBC)

Campbell Alexander isn't living the retirement he envisioned.

The Winnipeg man, who retired about two years ago, is applying for seasonal gigs as part of an effort to make up a $500-$600 monthly shortfall in the amount of money he says he and his wife need to live comfortably.

Alexander, 65, who just finished work for Elections Canada, doesn't have his next part-time gig lined up yet, so he's left with no choice but to cut his expenses.

His $1,500 combined monthly income from the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and a pension from 13 years as a civil servant simply isn't enough to get by.

"It's just general sacrifices. You don't go out as much as you may have before. You can't be as generous with family — grandchildren, for example. Christmas is always a bit of a challenge."

Alexander's story comes as Statistics Canada said Wednesday the country's inflation rate rose to a new 18-year high of 4.4 per cent in September. Higher prices for transportation, housing and food were the biggest factors in the spike to the cost of living, the agency said.

Bill VanGorder with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons says many seniors are having to cut back on their expenses and fear they will outlive their money. (CBC)

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons, which has about 350,000 members, said less than 30 per cent of older Canadians have a pension. That leaves retirees to live off their savings, which are currently being affected by low interest rates.

"There's a real fear," Bill VanGorder, the association's chief operating officer, said in an interview from Halifax.

"We did a survey of our CARP members and almost 40 per cent told us that they were afraid that they were going to outlive their money."

Alexander is also feeling the effects of the recent rise in the cost of living. He said he shops daily for groceries, only buying what he needs for the day to cut down on food waste.

In the past, he's worked for non-profits and as an administrative assistant for the federal government. Now he applies for a lot of work, but feels many employers don't want to hire a senior.

"I don't understand why again, I'm invisible to employers with the qualifications I have."

Fewer defined benefit pension plans

Toronto financial expert Laurie Campbell said she hears stories like Alexander's often.

"That's one of the reasons I often say be very careful, talk to the right people, make sure you have all your ducks in order before you make that retirement move, because once you step out it's very hard to get back in."

Campbell said the next wave of retirees won't be able to exit the workforce as young as generations before did.

"The whole idea of 'freedom 55' is certainly something that most people can't even think about or consider, so that's going to be a huge factor," said Campbell, who is the director of client financial wellness at Bromwich and Smith, an insolvency service.

She said many seniors are struggling to get by because there are fewer defined benefit pension plans, which are indexed to inflation and usually found in the public sector. 

Toronto financial expert Laurie Campbell says seniors often rely on investments that are locked in with low interest rates, because they can't afford riskier but higher-paying investments. (CBC)

Many have invested on their own in RRSPs, Campbell adds, which are dependent on the market. That can be problematic because they don't often keep up with inflation, she said.

"In the past you got a job, you got it for life, you had a defined pension plan, you retired after 30 years and you could live comfortably. That's not the case anymore."

VanGorder said seniors have also been hit with new costs during the pandemic, and many weren't able to get the free services or help they were used to before it started.

He said CARP also believes the consumer price index "basket of goods" Statistics Canada uses to determine the cost of living isn't reflective of older Canadians and the items they need to survive. He's calling on the federal government to do more for seniors.

"Unfortunately, these bureaucrats and politicians are the main ones left that have fixed indexed pensions, and they just don't understand the impact on older Canadians."

In Winnipeg, Alexander is hoping to pick up some seasonal holiday work soon. He said he hasn't ruled out turning to a food bank to make up the difference.

"I wouldn't be worried about using a food bank. Whatever stigma may have existed before, it's unfortunately become a reality."

Retiring becoming harder for most Canadians

2 years ago
Duration 2:09
The cost of living is going up and a recent retiree says he's back looking for work just to keep up with his bills. Experts say this Winnipegger is not alone.


​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: