A social worker’s perspective on the challenge of ‘making ends meet’ for the young-old

February 23, 2024

By Ashley DeRosa  

Imagine you are in your 50s and have had a series of hurdles that have hit you hard over the past 10 years: your spouse passed away, you developed chronic health conditions and have diminished savings for retirement or emergencies. You were never able to acquire a post-secondary education and thus have worked since your late teen in jobs with little security and a lack health benefits and retirement plan options. You now find yourself precariously housed, couch surfing or living in short term leases in apartments that you can barely afford and are most often in less desirable areas of the city.

Due to housing instability, food insecurity, and your chronic health conditions and other age-related declines, maintaining steady work is becoming increasingly difficult. You are facing ageism in the hiring process and workplace practices, and barriers to employment related to your multiple chronic health problems (Government of Canada, 2022). Like many other young-old adults, those aged 50-64 years old, you face considerable barriers in returning to work (Government of Canada, 2022; Morrissey, 2023). Unable to find employment, you are also unable to access Alberta and federal seniors benefits, which begin at age 65 and 60, respectively (Government of Alberta, 2024b, Government of Canada, 2023).

In this complex scenario of social service provision, often this population “falls through the cracks”. In my professional human services and social work practice career, I have worked with young-old adults, aged 50 to 64, in similar situations. They manage on the only benefits to which they are entitled; In Alberta, income support, which is meant to provide a temporary supplement one’s earning potential, provides a maximum of $959 dollars monthly to those who are experiencing a short-term disability or illness that is preventing one from working (Government of Alberta, 2024a). What does one do as a young-old adult who cannot easily secure new employment but does not yet qualify for seniors' social benefits? We know how few available affordable accommodations exist across Canada, especially for older adults (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2021; Ismail-Teja et al., 2020; Neustaeter, 2022). Adequate affordable supportive housing is greatly needed to support young-old adults to Age in the Right Place (AIRP) and avoid houselessness. Feedback from many of the young-old adults I have helped find housing for in the past, would always indicate they were told that they were not “old enough” to live in buildings designated for “seniors”. Lack of income, ageism and stigma, even self-stigma, plays a large part in this population of young-old adults’ failure in seeking market rentals. Young-old adults, who not qualify for subsidized seniors housing are also considered a lower priority for housing subsidies because they do not have dependent children. This population struggles to maintain adequate housing and food for themselves, along with trying to manage multiple chronic health conditions, which frequently leads them to rely on hospital services as an in-patient and admissions to long term care settings (Gruneir et al., 2018).

To address these challenges, an increase in affordable supportive housing for young-old adults is needed (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2022; Michaels, 2023). More affordable supportive housing options specifically tailored to for this population would provide greater and longer-term housing stability as this population ages. As well, reforms in provincial seniors’ benefits, such as allowing the determination of eligibility on a case-by-case basis for young-old adults (50 years plus), who are in precarious housing and health situations, or a guaranteed income for young-older adults at risk of houselessness. Access to affordable supportive housing and pension-benefit reforms could have drastically altered the life trajectory of the young-old adults, like many of the individuals with whom I have worked. Instead, in the absence of adequate social benefits they are relegated to live on the margins until age 65, until they are eligible to receive seniors’ benefits and potentially affordable housing.



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