Pandemic just made the road rockier for older jobless

Plight of older jobless highlighted in university’s ‘roadmap to recovery’.

A mature man who has been laid off due to a downturn in the economy sitting in an unemployment office applying for benefits available to the unemployed

Older workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic have been acknowledged as one of the key groups facing long-term hardship – a likelihood foreshadowed in a University of New South Wales ‘roadmap to recovery’.

Policy responses must address the needs of the vulnerable groups in society that have been hit hardest by the pandemic, say UNSW business school’s Leisa Sargent and John Piggott.

“The first is young people who are starting in their careers and are now being tripped up,” said Prof. Piggott. “You start working at a professional organisation, and six months in or 18 months in, suddenly you’re on three days a week. That’s a really negative thing to experience early in your career.”

But another key group, he said, was workers in their 50s, or older.

“It’s reasonably common knowledge that if you are thrown out of employment at the age of 55, you’ve got much less chance of coming back into the labour force than you do if you’re younger … The rate of long-term unemployment is much higher for people above the age of 55,” he said.

That fact is substantiated by Grattan Institute research late last year into the demographics of those receiving the JobSeeker payment – previously known as Newstart.

The institute’s Owain Emslie and Danielle Wood researched the age profiles of those receiving Newstart and shattered the general belief that most were younger people.

“Newstart recipients are a lot older than you might think,” they wrote.

“Half are over 45. Partly this is because unemployed people aged 24 or younger are more likely to be getting Youth Allowance.

“But even if we include unemployed Youth Allowance recipients in the figure, an outsized 45 per cent of all unemployment benefit recipients are over 45. One quarter are over 55.

“Women on Newstart are older still: 51 per cent of female jobseekers are over 40, compared with 42 per cent of male job-seekers.”

The researchers found that over the five years to March 2019, the number of people on Newstart aged over 45 had swelled by one-fifth, and the number over 55 by two-fifths.

Prof. Piggott said the pandemic was exacerbating this trend and was likely to result in more people dropping out of the workforce altogether, retiring early and missing out on crucial years of superannuation and savings for retirement.

“Imagine you’re 55, the kids have just left, and you’re really looking forward to the next 10 years being the decade where you can save a lot … Now you’re out of work and will have exhausted your superannuation by the time you’re 65 or 66. You’ll be someone who lives the rest of their life on the Age Pension. That’s a very different life trajectory from the previous one,” he said.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has also released research that shows older people and those without qualifications beyond secondary school are most at risk of long-term unemployment because of COVID-19.

BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the analysis showed that about 40 per cent of those people who lost their jobs were at risk of staying unemployed.

The research released in April showed that, of those who lost their jobs, 38.9 per cent were aged over 50 and 35.8 per cent were aged between 30 and 49. Only 25.3 per cent were in the 15 to 29-year bracket.

“We want to make sure that as part of our recovery we really target those high-risk people,” Ms Westacott said. “People who are over 55, people with low skills, and make sure that our skills system helps people get those new skills so they can get back into work.”

YourLifeChoices members offered the following sobering accounts of their experiences of seeking work at an older age.

“I never worked again after being made redundant at 57. I lost count of the jobs I applied for. But every one I didn’t get had nothing to do with my age, apparently!! This time there will be so many applicants for every job, let's hope the pension will keep pace with the cost of living for those of us locked out of the workforce forever.”

“Being a fit, active and not ready for the box six foot under, I got speaking to my next door neighbour who holds a senior position in one of my local supermarkets. I asked her about applying for a position as a casual packer – positions they were wanting to fill. I could happily do that for a few hours a week. She seemed a bit reticent, but explained that I would not be considered. Not due to my age exactly, but because my age group (I'm 67) is classed as high risk, and they are permitted to select applicants based on risk of health exposure.”

“Employers take one look at my greying hair and run a mile. I even coloured my hair once. Never again. I love my mixture of grey and black hair. I shouldn't have to colour my hair to get a job.”

“I am over 62 and have several health issues, though not able to qualify for a disability pension. I have been trying for several years to get back into the workforce to secure 15 hours work a week that I should be able to handle. I have found after hundreds of job applications that it is impossible to do that.”

But there is always the good news story.

“I consider myself to be extremely lucky. Not only have I still got a part-time job three days a week at 77 but my employer also arranged for me to work from home when this crisis started. It infuriates me when I see and hear of people being consigned to the scrapheap in their 50s-plus. There’s life (and value) in most of us well past that age bracket!”

Has the pandemic caused you to lose work? Are businesses getting better at recognising that older workers can be very valuable?

If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    10th Jul 2020
    When there are massive changes such as a pandemic we need to ensure that the changes necessary are made.
    If over 60s are not being employed then something to support then now.
    A government job guarantee . There is no good reason for governments at all levelsls to support people by paying for needed work to be done.
    Full time perhaps 30 hour a week jobs with a variety of fitness levels.
    It's not rocket science.
    Ditch the useless $1.3 billion a year job provider. Bring back CES. Match employers and employees and provide government jobs for those whom the private businesses won't employ.
    No it won't cause inflation if it's local citizens, local jobs, sovereign currency and not requiring foreign support or products.
    I'd take a job sewing face masks for 30 hours a week.
    Or tutoring children one on one in reading or maths.
    Maybe jobs at home requiring little cost except income and supplies.

    Time to end this neo-liberal, the private sector will supply all and go back to a mixed economy of private and public working in tandem to support society and communities.
    We know this worked after WW11.

    We have a failed ideology ruling decision making and it's time to change that.
    10th Jul 2020
    I meant there is a good reason for governments to support people. It's why we employ them. To run society and communities. The economy must go back to being a tool for the people and not an end in itself.
    10th Jul 2020
    I agree the job providers are useless. They don't help young people either. Youth unemployment is a lot worse than the government realizes also. Thousands of parents are using their teens as unpaid carers for their ageing grandparents. But if these teens were out looking for work as well the government would realize how bad youth unemployment really is
    10th Jul 2020
    Recently there was a story on Current Affair about a guy in remote NSW wanting a diesel mechanic, he tried all the sources but got no help. So he posted on social media and got hundreds of applications. Job providers are a big con by the Government, they take all the funding and produce poor and skewed results. People have been forced to do courses which are useless so they get paid. If someone wants a job they can easily search the internet themselves, they do not need a job provider wasting their time sending them to jobs they will never get or be qualified for.
    Ms Logik
    10th Jul 2020
    Yes, I agree, too, that the so called job providers are totally useless. They are getting paid to be nasty to their fellow citizens, to harass and push you. They are rude and can get your Government payments cancelled. That is wrong!
    I am in a situation that I was unemployed at age 61 before Covid 19. I don't see myself as a dole pludger because I do 15 hours of community work every week like many in my age group. We have found our niche - not able to get paid work any more - but we do our bit to help society to be a better place. How would Australia look like without all the volunteers! And we have found purpose in our lives by doing meaningful "work". Not all volunteers are on Jobseeker Allowance who have to do 15 hours a week - this just shows how lovely Australian people in general are, but our politics are screwed.
    Hope the change will come soon! Here is Australia's chance to come out better after (the second wave of) the pandemic :)
    10th Jul 2020
    Well said Ms Logik, and thanks for your volunteering. I always believed though we could also make more jobs from these volunteer jobs and pay accordingly, then you would not have to claim Job Seeker if paid for your work.
    11th Jul 2020
    Yes Ms Logik excellent comment. That volunteering should be paid work.

    I have 4 friends in exactly the same situation and one has been bullied badly by her "no job provider".

    My son was put off his farm labour contract in mid NSW and is now in Victoria working at a job he found on after 6 months of nonsense from a no job provider operator.
    They did absolutely nothing for their pay for him except waste his time and stress hm out.
    This stupid system almost destroyed his belief in himself.

    How great if there was proper pay for the "volunteer" work that needs doing.
    10th Jul 2020
    Consider this, 70% of Kmart's workforce is under 25, not sure how the other big retailers fair but this is an example of keeping wages low so people can buy cheap products. Factor in higher insurance for older workers who are more at risk of getting injured or sick too.
    I think Bunning's are the only ones who employ older workers because of their skills knowledge.
    If anyone else knows more about this I would like to know.
    11th Jul 2020
    Incognito, in Atherton, Supercheap has a range of ages, but the older staff are the ones everybody asks as few of the younger ones have the knowledge, - occasional ones do but it takes a lot of home studying to learn all that trade stuff, - similiar sort of store to Bunnings.
    11th Jul 2020
    Good to know Lookfar.
    12th Jul 2020
    Incognito, excellent point made here. My small pharmacy which provides personal, good old fashioned customer service was sold to one of those big discount chain pharmacies. My pharmacy dealt with elderly people who preferred a smaller environment, to chat and to get to know the pharmacist and vice versa. Now, myself and other staff were interviewed for roles for that big discount chain pharmacy. And me being 52, and another staff member who is 64, with lots of experience, didn't get the roles, only the younger staff members below 50 ( between 26 to 42 years of age) . I am a carer for my elderly parents and am limited in the hours I can work but I did mention I am happy to compromise. Despite my 27 years of experience, community, hospital and correctional pharmacy and other qualifications I was tossed aside. Looking for part time work with stage 3 restrictions....tried and impossible, and yes in front line health care work. It is all about the $$$$. So, I am thinking outside the box and see what else I can do...plan B and possibly research, applied for a job already. I made a formal complaint to that big discount pharmacy chain as my staff members all got emails regarding their roles, at staggered times but myself and my staff member who is 64, have yet to receive an email stating we weren't successful. We found out from the other staff members what was going on, which is unprofessional and poorly managed. I wouldn't want to work in a junk store discount chain pharmacy anyway but it is the principle of being treated with empathy and respect in this difficult period of time in the world.
    12th Jul 2020
    Thanks for sharing Laura52, but how do we stop this sort of thing from happening. There are many stories like this I am sure, it seems we will all end up working for big corporations if this keeps up. Sad to lose the service of small businesses. So many are closing to never be re-opened again because they have lost too much money. Even small cafes you will lose that to McCafe, Starbucks, and other big chains, all employing the cheapest staff they can find.
    Life experience
    12th Jul 2020
    It is very sad that older Australians have to suffer.
    There is definitely age discrimination out there.
    Newstart needs to be increased. It’s far too low to survive on.
    If people want to retire early they should be allowed to. And pension age reduced to assist them. So the young can get jobs. But assistance needs to be given to the people in their 50’s Upwards to work if they want to work. The choice should be there.
    Many people have to work till late 60’s as pension not available. I think this is wrong.
    almost a grey hair
    25th Jul 2020
    With SLO MO jumping up and down about refusing employment which has been offered, how would you go if offered a job driving a bus with a HR licence when on jobseeker at 64 yrs of age when its been 30 plus yrs since driving a truck. do you think a person should be cut off for this or would there be some support if you didnt think you could do the job safely.
    25th Jul 2020
    It is up to the Job Providers to make that decision, they have too much power to cut people off IMO. So it depends on how understanding your Job Provider is. Job Providers get paid if you attend an interview so you may still need to go to the interview and the employer would most likely say you need to retrain.

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles