Older jobseekers falling through the cracks in ‘silent crisis’

Older jobseekers falling through the cracks in ‘silent crisis’

By political reporter Jade Macmillan

An illustration of older workers walking on a staircase that is never ending
Older jobseekers have the system “stacked against them”, one Labor MP warns.(ABC News: Emma Machan)
Not even the deadly threat of cancer was enough to keep Louise from going to work each day.

Key points:

  • Louise, 55, has found herself on the outside of the employment market
  • Stories like hers have prompted Labor’s Stephen Jones to urge his party improve on policy “failures”
  • The Government argues it has targeted measures to assist older jobseekers

Diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer, she kept going to work unaware another threat to her career was on the horizon.

“I worked most of the time through that health scare, including through eight rounds of chemotherapy, and was able to work because of the support of my work and also the support of my family,” she said.

“But that was pretty tough and that went into early 2020 as well. And then, of course, the pandemic hit us.”

Louise has been looking for a new job since August, when her 12-month contract in a management position was not renewed due to a COVID-related downturn.

She does not want her surname used in case it affects her chances of finding work. She also worries her age is making it more difficult.

“At 55, I come with a wealth of experience but I’ve also got an old face, and since going through chemotherapy treatment I’ve now got a nice ‘silver fox’ hairdo or whatever the female equivalent of that is,” she said.

While Louise feels fortunate to have the security of already owning her own home, she has a new perspective on how quickly circumstances can change for others.

She has come to embody a generation of workers, many of whom are women, finding themselves out of work before they planned to retire.

“Somebody can go through the experience that I have, you know a fairly significant cancer diagnosis and treatment, which is very expensive as well, and losing a job,” she said.

“And that’s sort of one or two steps away from homelessness.”

An illustration of an older woman with white hair on a red background
Older Australians searching for a job face age discrimination despite their experience.(ABC News: Emma Machan)

Labor MP urges his own party to improve on policy ‘failures’

Federal Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones believes older Australians who find themselves out of work before becoming eligible for the Age Pension are being failed by a system that feels “stacked against them”.

He has called on his own side of politics to take a more coordinated approach to the needs of people aged between 55 and 64 in areas like employment, superannuation and housing.

“We’ve got this silent crisis going on in policy for older workers, and it seems to be invisible, and our policy responses are inadequate,” he said.

Mr Jones said older women faced particular challenges because they typically earned less money than men and were more likely to take time off work to raise children and care for relatives.

And he warned ignoring the entire demographic risked creating a large group of “politically disaffected” voters who were “ripe for political exploitation”.

A man in a tie addresses Parliament
Labor’s Stephen Jones says his party’s strategies for helping older unemployed people are “inadequate”.(ABC News)

“We need to rethink the rhetoric, we need to rethink our stereotypes,” he said.

“And if we don’t, we risk the same sort of backlash and the same sort of extremist response that we’ve seen in other countries around the world here in Australia.”

Older Australians being forced into involuntary retirement

A recent review of Australia’s retirement income system found that before the pandemic, almost one in five Australians between the ages of 55 and 64 were receiving either JobSeeker, the Carer Payment or the Disability Support Pension.

It also found unemployed older Australians usually took much longer to find a new job than younger job seekers and people with lower wealth and education levels were more likely to be forced into early retirement.

“The main reasons for involuntary retirements are own ill health, caring responsibilities and job-related issues such as a reluctance to hire older workers — ageism,” it said.

“The high prevalence of involuntary retirement means many Australians retire abruptly and with fewer savings than planned. This runs counter to policies that seek to encourage older workforce participation.”

Blonde woman in jacket sternly looks to her right.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash is adamant older jobseekers have not been neglected.(ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash denied older job seekers were being ignored, arguing the Government had introduced measures like the Restart wage subsidy for businesses which hired people over the age of 50.

She also pointed to programs helping older jobseekers to upskill in areas such as digital literacy.

“The extensive supports already in place for this age group are flexible enough to respond to the challenges created by the pandemic,” a spokesman for the Minister said.

Mature job seekers urge employers to give them a chance

Eva, 62, says she has applied for hundreds of jobs since being made redundant in 2015 but has not been able to find steady work.

“It’s a little degrading because no-one is actually interested in what you can bring to a company as such,” she said.

“They don’t really ask what have you been doing previously, what kind of areas have you worked in. They just kind of said, ‘Well it has been a long time since you’ve been working in that area.'”

She currently receives the JobSeeker payment and while the coronavirus supplement has helped during the pandemic, she is nervous about what will happen when it runs out next month.

“I would have to juggle the bills, the quarterly bills, as well as the mortgage, and after that there is food,” she said.

Eva says employers can get a lot from older workers if they are willing to give them a go.

“It’s not only life experience, it’s the skills they gathered throughout their working life,” she said.

“I would love it if employers would change their attitude a little bit and give them a chance.”

Source: ABC News

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