While speaking on a national radio program, Finance Minister Bill Morneau was confronted by an unemployed Winnipeg man nearing his 60s who wanted to know what, if anything, the 2017-18 federal budget could do to help him find a new job. Despite being a capable and experienced debater in the House of Commons, Mr. Morneau could not answer him.

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This article was published 24/3/2017 (1761 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

While speaking on a national radio program, Finance Minister Bill Morneau was confronted by an unemployed Winnipeg man nearing his 60s who wanted to know what, if anything, the 2017-18 federal budget could do to help him find a new job. Despite being a capable and experienced debater in the House of Commons, Mr. Morneau could not answer him.

Sure, he was quick to point out the boost to employment training, but Mr. Morneau failed to answer what someone who is nearing the end of their employment years can do to find work. These are people who have been downsized, let go or forced out and now in their late 50s and early 60s worry about their dwindling savings and their retirement. Is retraining really an option?

The nature of the workplace has changed dramatically with the rise of globalization, neo-liberalism and computerization. Unlike previous generations, there are no sure jobs anymore and anyone who says he can figure out what industry is going to be hot in the next decade is a liar. We’ve become a "throw away" society in more ways than one — companies throw away workers, just as we throw away clothing and old appliances. Unfortunately, the Liberal government has failed to address that reality.

Mr. Morneau did suggest that investments in the Canada Pension Plan mean Canadians can retire knowing that this public safety net is available to them, but a retirement relying on CPP and Old Age Security is a meagre one at best, particularly in urban areas where the cost of housing is expensive and particularly for those who are retiring with debt.

While there has been a lot of concern raised about millennials — young people who are under-employed or unemployed despite university education — the plight of the 50-something who’s facing an uncertain future doesn’t seem to resonate as much. The additional problem of being middle aged and on the job market is the competition with someone younger, brighter and certainly less exhausted.

When you go into the United States, particularly in the rust belt, you see what happens when governments don’t pay attention to this group. U.S. President Donald Trump’s vow to "make America great again" was a welcome message to those who bought into the idea of being "company men" (or women) only to see their employers close shop and move on in a bid to make more profit and keep the one per cent happy. How do you retrain a whole town?

The rise of the so-called alt-right, the conservative and often sexist and xenophobic movement that has lately gained prominence, has taken full advantage of their disappointment, and Canada is not immune. You have only to go to Fort McMurray, Alta., or Oakville, Ont., to see that despair. Mr. Morneau, along with his Liberal colleagues, likes to talk about "middle-class anxiety," but in his response to the Winnipeg caller, it’s clear he doesn’t really understand what that’s all about.

Statistics Canada figures released a study in 2014 about the effect of layoffs on older workers. The study determined that of the men who left full-time jobs from the ages of 55 to 59, more than 62 per cent found work within a year. For women, about 57 per cent found work. The pay was much lower in most cases.

Yes, let’s focus on transition and skill development. Focus on job training in a dynamic economy with industries that are increasingly global. But the federal government would be wise to also recognize not just the "middle-class anxiety" but "middle-age anxiety" that’s keeping people up at night.