70% of Filipino GTA seniors poor
By Mila Astorga-Garcia
TORONTO–Approximately seven out of 10 Filipino elderlies in the Greater Toronto Area live in poverty, according to results of a groundbreaking study by academic and community researchers.
The study, titled “Life is Really Hard Here”: The Living Conditions and Needs of Filipino Elderlies in the Greater Toronto Area, authored by Roland Sintos Coloma, Ph.D., Fritz Luther Pino and Frank Villanueva, is a research collaboration between the University of Toronto and Filipino Centre Toronto.
The study’s main objective is to answer the question: What are the living conditions and needs of Filipino seniors in the Greater Toronto Area, considered one of the fastest growing elderly ethnic minority groups in the country.
The study’s target audience are politicians and policy makers, service providers, and non-government and community-based organizations, with the goal that its recommendations would lead to “culturally appropriate policies, programs and services to Filipino elderlies and other elderly racialized minority groups.”
In its formal launching on Thursday, Aug. 29, at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto, attended by Filipino seniors, academic and community researchers, FCT officers and members, media, and community members, the principal author, Dr. Coloma, Associate Professor at University of Toronto, revealed the following:
* The approximately 70% rate of poverty of Filipino elderlies in the GTA is six times more than the most recent national rate of 11.4% of all elderlies in Canada living in poverty, or three times more than the most recent figures of 17% to 23 % of all elderlies in the City of Toronto.
For purposes of this study, Filipino elderlies are defined as seniors at least 65 years old of Filipino ancestry. Poverty is defined according to Statistics Canada’s low income cut-offs (LICOs), which refer to “an income threshold below which families are likely to spend 20% or more of their income on food, shelter and clothing in comparison to the average family, therefore leaving less income available for other expenses such as health, transportation, and recreation.”
According to Statistics Canada, in 2012, the LICO for a family unit of one person in Toronto is $23,647, while that of a family unit of four persons in Toronto is $43,942.
This first comprehensive study of the economic conditions of Filipino elderlies in the GTA reveals that their individual annual incomes are mostly below the poverty line: about a quarter (26.2%) have individual annual incomes of $12,000 or less; about a third (33.3%) have individual incomes between $12,000 and $18,000; about 15 per cent (14.6%) have yearly incomes of between $18,000 and $24,000. Altogether, 74.1% of Filipino elderlies in the GTA have individual yearly incomes of $24,000 or less, thus almost all, incomes below the poverty line.
The research also indicates majority of Filipino elderlies in the GTA who live with others in a household – therefore with combined incomes of members of that household — are not spared from poverty. Nearly half (47.3%)of Filipino elderlies are in households with combined yearly incomes of $24,000 or less; 14 percent (13.6%) of them live in households with combined incomes between $24,000 and $36,000 and 17 per cent (17.1%) live in households with combined incomes of between $36,001 and $48,000, “which are at the cusp of the low income cut-off for a family of four persons in Toronto in 2012” which is a way of saying they are within what are considered poverty incomes. Thus, 78% of Filipino elderlies in the GTA live in households with combined yearly incomes of $48,000 or less.
Another important finding of the study, which is based on a survey of 250 elderlies and interviews of 20 elderlies living in the GTA, is that those elderlies living in the GTA who arrived after 1991 are poorer than those who came before 1991.
Those who came to Canada from 1991 onward had a median individual yearly income between $6,001 and $12,000, and a median household yearly income between $12,001 and $24,000. Those who came before 1991 had a mean household yearly income of between $18,001 and $24,000, and a median household yearly income of between $24,000 and $36,000. While those who came before 1991 are relatively better off – since many of them migrated in their prime working years, still their incomes, just like those arriving after 1991 – seniors who depend for financial assistance mostly on government or their families – have median individual and median household incomes below the poverty lines.
Why is that? The study attributes this phenomenon to the reality of deprofessionalization and deskilling, which happens when Philippine-trained professionals’ education credentials and work experience are not recognized by employers and accrediting institutions in Canada. As a result, most Filipinos end up in jobs far below the normative standards of their education and training, such that “engineers become machine operators, dentists become dental hygienists, professors become supply teachers; and nurses become live-in caregivers.” Such a phenomenon was extensively documented in a 2009 research, titled “Explaining the Deprofessionalized Filipino : Why Filipino Immigrants Get Low-paying Jobs in Toronto,” by Dr. Philp F. Kelly, Mila Astorga-Garcia, Enrico F. Esguerra and the Community Alliance for Social Justice.
The seniors study is emphatic that such “deskilling and deprofessionalization impact the current elderlies who have lived in Canada for decades and those who have arrived relatively recently. The old-timer elderlies have limited financial capital to enjoy during their retirement years, and subsist on government/employer pension benefits and meager savings. The newcomer elderlies rely almost exclusively on their family.”
It adds that since the deprofessionalized and deskilled Filipinos end up in downgraded positions or survival jobs with lower pay, they have to work overtime and take on additional jobs just to survive. Their elderly parents, meanwhile, support their adult children by taking care of their grandchildren to save on babysitting costs. Sometimes they are even compelled to provide care for other children in order to earn even a just small income for their own subsistence, or to help with household expenses.
“The continuous struggle to make a living and to have economic security seems to be the ongoing theme for Filipinos in Canada,” the study notes.
Some elderlies have to work outside their home on a part-time or full-time basis to augment their income. Majority of Filipino elderlies live with families or friends, an arrangement which contrasts to the norm of elderlies in Canada who live alone in their own homes, or in seniors’ residences or nursing homes. Filipino elderlies are prompted to live with other people in order to pool financial resources and share expenses.
Most Filipino elderlies in the GTA rely on Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits which provide average incomes of $516 and $500 per month respectively, the study notes. Some receive Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits, which provide an additional average income of $597 a month. However, these main sources of government income for the Filipino elderlies in the GTA are not sufficient to provide what is called “economic security” which the Canadian Council on Social Development refers to as “an assured and stable standard of living that provides individuals and families with a level of resources and benefits necessary to participate economically, politically, socially, culturally, and with dignity in their community’s activities.”
As a result of their poverty, many respondents revealed they sometimes could not afford sufficient food that they had to scrimp on meals, sometimes making do with just two meals a day. They also suffered from poor emotional health, with many of them “feeling worried, bored, angry, lonely, and confused,” the study noted.
Yet, despite their poverty, the study notes, many send money to their family in the Philippines, thinking they are worse off than them. The following quotes from the research participants reveal in a compelling way how their poverty impacts on their lives:
On insufficient income:
“I only get CPP and Old Age Security. Do you know what my income is now? Only $1,200. You really have to budget properly. I worked for 32 plus years, but no company pension… And then your rent is $550, so there’s hardly anything left.” (Female, 72 years old, single)
“I don’t get company pension. I was working for 18 years in the company… So then, I have less than $1,300 (from the government). Then rent is $900. That’s why I’m doing part-time (work) still.” (Female, 72 years old, single)
On low income and poor housing conditions:
“Because I pay $500. But now, oh my God, it is $900. So expensive! How can I live like this, you know? And the pension we’re receiving is not much. Plus everything – the wall, ceiling, everything is coming off. And it’s not really good for me cause I have asthma. It’s not really good. That’s why I said, if only I have money, I can move right away. So dirty.” (Female, 72 years old, lives alone)
On insufficient food:
“We don’t eat much. Very little. When we make rice, two cups. Sometimes that’s for two days. We don’t eat dinner. Unlike before, eh, we were stronger (Male, 84 years old, married.)
“I have blood disorder. Every two months I go to the doctor to take out blood. There’s medicine, but sometimes I don’t have enough money. If there’s no money, nothing could be done. Like, when there’s no school, of course there’s no babysitting. That’s when I get worried because I don’t have money at all. My doctor doesn’t know my income situation. Even my children do not know. (Female, 74 years old)
On emotional health:
“I’m really old. I’m alone here. I don’t have family here and I haven’t gone back to the Philippines for a long time. I’ve only returned once since I arrived Canada in 1992, that was in 1998 when I went back. (Male, 75 years old)
The study came up with recommendations directed toward both the government and the community, These are:
1. Create a community-led and multi-sectoral Task Force on Filipino Elderlies that will be in charge of policy direction, advocacy strateggies and program development for culturally appropriate services for Filipinos seniors
2. Build the organizational capacity among Filipino community groups, especially seniors groups, for political advocacy for seniors needs.
3. Build partnerships with other ethno-racial organizations and communities with shared interests in seniors well-being.
4. Ask politicians in densely Filipino areas and public officials of Filipino descent to consistently take leadership and coalition-building roles in advocating for the interests of Filipino seniors.
5.Support government policies that promote the quality of life of all elderlies, and reject those that do not. For example, reject moves to mandate retirement and extend the retirement age to 67, and support the call to improve the Pooled Registered Pension Plan and the CPP, and the shortening of the ten-year wait for elderly newcomers before receiving their old age pension.
6. Support government policies that seek to end labour exploitation, especially as they affect women, immigrant and racialized minority workers, as well as the practice of deskilling and deprofessionalization of Filipino and other foreign-trained immigrants.