Many N.W.T. seniors aren't earning a living income: report

Many seniors living alone and renting homes in the Northwest Territories aren’t earning a living income, according to a report commissioned by the NWT Seniors' Society.

'None of the communities showed an income level where [seniors living alone or renting] could make ends meet'

Suzette Montreuil, the executive director of the NWT Seniors' Society, says 'any subsidies that can decrease the cost of living for seniors is really important.' (Steve Silva/CBC)

Many seniors living alone and renting homes in the Northwest Territories aren't earning a living income, according to a report commissioned by the NWT Seniors' Society.

In the report, a senior is considered someone 65 years of age or older. A living income is defined as the post-tax amount needed "to live decently."

The report examined government statistics, some of which date back to 2016, related to seniors who live in Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik and Yellowknife.

"None of the communities showed an income level where [seniors living alone and renting homes] could make ends meet on the basic expenses," Suzette Montreuil, the organization's executive director, said at an announcement in Yellowknife on Friday.

Montreuil said there wasn't enough data available to examine smaller communities.

The report identified rent as being a significant financial burden for seniors, and "that suggests that looking at the cost of rent is important, and looking at the possibility of a subsidy could be really useful."

The numbers are based on seniors earning the full amounts possible from Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and the respective household averages from the Canadian Pension Plan.

The report, which cost $4,500 to produce, also included money from the NWT Senior Citizen Supplementary Benefit and the Senior Home Heating Subsidy in the income calculations. 

Suzette Montreuil, executive director of the NWT Seniors' Society, says none of the communities had an income level where they would be able to make ends meet. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Michel Haener, the author and researcher of the report, said she tried to come up with "reasonable" estimates for seniors' incomes after tax, but noted there are other factors that could impact what seniors truly earn.

A basic living income was calculated based on the cost of food, utilities and clothing, among other things. That number was compared with the total income the average senior receives in each community. 

In Yellowknife, the living income benchmark is $33,266, and seniors earn $30,437, resulting in an income gap of $2,829.

The living income benchmarks range from $33,236 in Fort Smith to $41,228 in Inuvik.

The biggest gap for seniors was in Inuvik, at $9,891.

Couples with property fare better

A rosier picture was painted for senior couples who own a home. They exceed the living income benchmark in Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Hay River, but in Inuvik there is a gap of $6,757.

One of the reasons why couples fare better is because of property tax breaks for them offered by municipalities, said Montreuil.

The living income benchmarks for couples were $38,188 in Yellowknife and $49,099 in Inuvik.

She said the report shows how beneficial subsidies are to seniors.

"Any subsidies that can decrease the cost of living for seniors are really important," Montreuil said.

This was the first time the organization produced this kind of report for senors, said Montreuil, and the hope is to produce another one every couple of years, depending on funding.

The  NWT Seniors' Society is funded by the territorial government, the federal government's New Horizons for Seniors Program and the organization's membership, Montreuil said.

Its members are expected to meet in May to come up with specific recommendations for the territorial government.

A representative from the territory's Department of Education, Culture and Employment would not comment at the event. The department did not immediately respond to CBC's request for comment.