Older Aussies lead the charge as the country recovers from the pandemic

The darkest days of the pandemic are in the rear-view mirror for many older Australians, but the stresses of the cost-of-living crisis are weighing heavily on some, new research reveals.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) releases its biennial report on the overall welfare and wellbeing of the nation today, launched by Mark Butler, minister for health and aged care, and Amanda Rishworth, minister for social services.

The report analyses data from a wide variety of sources and focuses on the “temporary and lasting effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on the way Australians live and work”.

Life satisfaction looking up (for some)

The AIHW publishes a report on the country’s welfare every two years, reporting on overall health instead in alternating years.

It found that in 2023, levels of life satisfaction and psychological distress were slowly recovering since the peak periods of COVID – but were recovering faster in those aged 55 and over.

Average life satisfaction pre-pandemic was 7.5 out of 10 in 2019 (and 7.6 in 2014). This fell to 7.2 in 2020.

But for the older subgroup, there have been continuous improvements in the average level of psychological distress overall since the start of the pandemic.

Matthew James, AIHW deputy chief executive, says life in Australia is in a ‘new normal’ phase, to which many of us are still struggling to adjust.

“Australia has come a long way since we released the previous edition of Australia’s welfare in September 2021,” he says.

“At that time, many Australians were experiencing lockdowns, only 44.7 per cent of people over the age of 16 were fully vaccinated against COVID and most children aged 12–15 weren’t yet eligible to receive COVID vaccines.

“Life is much more ‘normal’ now for most Australians, however, some things are quite different to before the pandemic.”

Cost of living biting hard

The psychological state of many older Australians may be improving, but many are also being negatively impacted by the current inflationary period and cost-of-living crisis.

Annual growth in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) peaked at 7.8 per cent over the year to December 2022 and has subsequently fallen back to 6 per cent over the year to the June quarter 2023.

After adjusting for changes in the CPI, the AIHW found real average weekly earnings have been falling since May 2021. Real average weekly ordinary time earnings for full-time employees fell by 4.1 per cent over the year to November 2022 and by 2 per cent over the year to March 2023.

In August 2023, 20.2 per cent of Australians reported finding it ‘difficult’ and 10.1 per cent ‘very difficult’ to live on their present income – which were above levels reported before and during the pandemic (18.5 per cent ‘difficult’ and 8.2 per cent ‘very difficult’ in February 2020; 12.6 per cent ‘difficult’ and 4.7 ‘very difficult’ in November 2020).

The results show the current economic situation is worse for most Australians than the pandemic was, at least in financial terms.

Are you managing your bills and expenses at the moment? Is your position now better or worse than during the pandemic? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Why the old-age dependency ratio matters

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyerhttps://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/bradlockyer/
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.
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