Old and on the scrapheap

An ever-increasing number of older Australians are unemployed, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures.

The bureau reports that despite a drop in the overall unemployment rate over the past five years, the number of older Australians out of work has increased.

Between December 2014 and December 2019, the number of people unemployed in the general community fell by 5.5 per cent, however the number of older people out of work (those aged 55 to 64) increased by 7.8 per cent.

The ABS figures relating to underemployment painted an even grimmer picture for older Australians. Overall underemployment increased 7.6 per cent over the five years to December 2019. But among the older cohort, it jumped 21.2 per cent.

Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees chief executive Eva Scheerlinck told The New Daily that older people were being forced out of the workforce prematurely.

“Up to 40 per cent of Australians don’t get to choose when they retire and a significant number of these people have experienced workplace discrimination,” she said.

“Many older Australians are trying to stay in the workforce but simply can’t get the work.”

The challenge for older women seeking work jumped to another level.

Australian National University demographer Liz Allen said a lot of women in their mid-40s, who took a redundancy that was financially attractive, were unable to get back into the workforce.

“To be treated as too old at 45 is extraordinary,” she told The New Daily. “The population is ageing, but we are effectively discriminating against ourselves.

“There are laws against age discrimination, but it is happening anyway.

“It’s a peculiar situation. We are going to need as many people contributing to income tax as possible, so we need to find ways to keep people in the workforce longer.”

Dr Allen said that older people should be able to feel confident they could change jobs without being unemployed for an extended period of time.

“We need to find a way of allowing older people to move around in the workforce safely,” she said.

A 2019 study by the University of South Australia’s Centre for Workplace Excellence found that if you lose your job past the age of 50, you were in the hardest age bracket to find work.

The study followed the Human Rights Commission Willing To Work Inquiry, which found job-seekers aged 55-plus were unemployed, on average, for 68 weeks, compared to 49 weeks for those aged 25 to 54 and 30 weeks for 15 to 24-year-olds.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese told the Queensland Media Club on Wednesday that more than 170,000 Australians aged between 55 and 64 were on unemployment benefits just when they should be building their nest egg. They face “spiralling down towards a pretty lean retirement,” he said.

He said a Labor government would focus on key areas relating to older Australians: the superannuation imbalance between men and women, retraining to help over-55s stay in the workforce, aged care and a pensioner dental plan.

“Volunteering is great. But to build a stronger economy, we must harness the talents of everybody – and that includes older Australians who are sources of wisdom and experience for their employers and co-workers,” he said.

In YourLifeChoices’ 2019 Retirement Income Review Survey, 69 per cent of the almost 4000 respondents, said there should be more incentives for people to work for longer.

This comment from YourLifeChoices member Patti was typical of many: “I am really glad I am no longer required to look for work. It is soul-destroying as no one seems interested in employing anyone over 50. I would hate to try and exist on Newstart, because it certainly is not enough to live on.”

Wickedness said: “There appears to be no value on experience. I am an older person with a varied experience but I find that just walking in the door it is as if ‘Oh no! Not another old bloke!’”

Are you looking for work without luck? Do you believe the lack of opportunity is directly related to your age?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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