By Patrick O’Brien (AIMS on Campus Student Fellow)
The Government of Nova Scotia is leading a new proposition to change how we think of the aging population, the benefits provided, the obstacles surrounding “aging” and the impact it has on our economy. By 2030 the Government of Nova Scotia estimates that one in four people will be over the age of 65, which shows a major change in demographic we will have going forward.
The “SHIFT” plan will make investments in transportation and affordable housing for those who want to retire in their own communities. It will seek to promote health and wellness, and promote participation in the labor market as the primary objectives. This is all capable with $13.6 million committed to the plan by the Premier Stephen McNeil with as many as 50 objectives to be completed by the end of 2020.
There are many positive aspects of the plan that could help the economy and community. Increasing the participation of older adults in the labor market lowers the unemployment rate for the province, which is 8.7% compared to 6.3% for the rest of Canada. It also brings experience and wisdom to these roles, not to mention that because there is such a large presence of older adults in many rural communities of Nova Scotia, it could increase competitiveness for the small businesses that adopt the hiring of older adults.
Another benefit of the plan is promoting healthy living, including exercising lessons. This also limits social isolation, which in a finding by the SHIFT program was found to increase the likelihood of smoking, drinking, and enabling the individual four to five times more prone to hospitalization. Implementing these strategies and educating the public on the matter will reduce the chances of an elder adult going to the hospital and therefore reducing healthcare costs.
Notwithstanding, there are many obstacles facing this initiative.
The main challenge for the SHIFT program will be the encouragement of older adult employment. First the employer may believe that the older adult is less productive than a younger hire, or may not want to pay the premium for workers compensation to the employee if he/she was to get hurt on the job. From the outlined reasons above, for example when the Government of Nova Scotia stated it “will work with employers” it could be assumed that some sort of training cost to mentor employers during the process will be a part of the program, or potentially a subsidy for said employment, however this is yet to be confirmed.
Should there be a subsidy for the employment of the elderly, this would increase the number of older adult hires, and would limit the hiring of younger employees and immigrant workers as well. Although this does improve the cost efficiency of hiring for the employer, one could argue it may not be as effective as hiring a younger, and more energetic and motivated individual. This would create an uncompetitive hiring process, limiting the number of new participants added to the labor force 15 years of age and older looking for work but are unable to acquire employment. This could factor into an increase in the unemployment rate.
The SHIFT program will be a positive step forward for the economy in Nova Scotia by better involving and demonstrating the importance older adults have in our economic development, in addition to the wisdom and experience they can share to improve our quality of living through labor participation, volunteering, and mentoring. However, and arguably most importantly, it will be of great interest to see how the government will maneuver around the many challenges this program will yield, in addition to implementing the necessary change.