Seniors living in poverty on the rise in New Brunswick

A study from the University of Moncton estimates 20.2 per cent of New Brunswick seniors are living in poverty.

20.2 per cent of seniors live on less than $14,000 a year, and numbers are going up quickly

A new study from the University of Moncton paints a grim picture of the situation of seniors in New Brunswick. (CBC)

The number of seniors living near or below the poverty line has risen quickly in recent years, according to a study released Wednesday by the University of Moncton.

It found that more than 20 per cent of people 65 and over in New Brunswick live on less than $14,000 a year.

That's more than 25,000 people.

The study also found 40 per cent of seniors were living on after-tax incomes of less than $20,000.

That proportion is higher than in other Maritime provinces, and higher than the Canadian average, which is about 33 per cent.

Particularly alarming to researchers is how quickly that number has grown over the last decade.

"That was a real surprise to us," said Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard, nursing professor at the University of Moncton and research chair in aging. She said government efforts in recent years to curb poverty haven't worked.

"That's a bit worrying," she said.

Worse for women, rural communities

The study also found the proportion of seniors living on $14,000 or less was higher among women — 23 per cent, and in rural parts of the province.

They found people in the Bathurst, Campbellton and Edmundston areas struggled more than elsewhere.

The situation was also worse for older seniors and francophones.

"We link that basically to their education — so limited access to education when they were young, therefore not accessing the same well-paying jobs," Dupuis-Blanchard said.

"Many of them have worked in seasonal work."

Researchers found many of these people either worked less or didn't have pension plans or other benefits.

'No magic solution'

According to Dupuis-Blanchard, a first step would be connecting all seniors with someone from Service New Brunswick, to make sure they're benefiting from all the income they're eligible to receive.

"There's no magic solution," she said. "That's the unfortunate part."

The New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice, meanwhile, said it will send the report's findings to the new provincial government before Christmas and will make concrete proposals for the coming budget.

Among them will be more social housing for seniors, and workplace changes, including an increase to the minimum wage and more unionization for workers.

Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard said she was surprised the study revealed so many seniors living close to or below the poverty line. (CBC)

Asked to comment on the study, the province said in an email that it "intends to restart and reinvigorate the poverty reduction process, which will begin with comprehensive social assistance reform." 

New Brunswick is tied with Nova Scotia for the province with the highest proportion of senior citizens — 19.9 per cent of the population.

That number is expected to climb to 26.6 per cent of New Brunswickers by 2026, according to Statistics Canada.

Dupuis-Blanchard hopes the study will help demystify misconceptions about seniors.

"A lot of people think all seniors are rich, and all seniors are well off," she said.

"Twenty per cent of seniors that are almost at the poverty line or under the poverty line — as a society, I think we have to address that."