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A golden age? 65-69 year olds absorb half Australia's jobs growth

18 June 2013

Australia's workforce demographics are changing. According to recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, over a quarter of Australians aged 65 to 69 are now working, most of them full-time, as older workers have absorbed half of Australia's net growth in jobs since the global financial crisis.

We now have more than a million workers aged 60 and over - almost 300,000, or 40 percent more than five years ago.

The most amazing growth has been in men and women working on into their late 60s. In five years, their numbers have risen from 172,000 to 278,000.

However, less than half of Australians aged 15 to 19 now have a job, with younger workers having shed 93,000 jobs in the past five years on the back of tougher economic conditions and higher school retention rates.

Australia now has more workers aged over 55 than under 25. Numbers of workers aged 25 to 34 have increased markedly with the inflow of young foreign workers.

According to the research, one in every 40 workers in Australia is now in their late 60s. One in 100 is 70 or over.

This is because older Australians today enjoy better health than any earlier generation. They are less likely to be worn out by physical work, and their jobs no longer require it.

They can look forward to a much longer lifespan - life expectancy of 60-year-olds is increasing at the rate of nine years every half-century - but most lack the retirement savings to last that distance. The GFC had buffeted the retirement savings of many Baby Boomers, prompting them to put off retirement.

The ABS figures show workforce participation has risen for women, especially older women - and fallen for men, especially younger men.

Thirty years ago, most women aged 45 to 54 spent their time at home, outside the workforce. Today they have replaced 20 to 24-year-olds as the peak age for female participation: 77 percent of them are now in work or looking for work.

In 1983, only 11 percent of women aged 60 to 64 were in the workforce. By 2008, that had jumped to 38 percent, and five years later it has soared to 46 percent. Comparing the first four months of 2013 with the same months of 2008, the ABS found the number of women over 60 in work had grown by half, from 280,000 to 423,000. A quarter of all job growth has gone to women aged 55 and over.

Last year, the Federal Government announced a new $1000 Jobs Bonus scheme for employers who recruit and retain a mature-age job seeker for more than three months. The Diversity Council of Australia Working for the Future research found that age discrimination at work was the most common type of discrimination reported. In percentage terms, it was almost twice that of the next most common perceived discrimination, gender (8%) and care-giving responsibilities (8%).

Stereotypes about older workers being inflexible, hard to train or lacking in skills or energy are "nonsense" and need to be tackled head on if we are to remove barriers to workforce participation, according to the Council.

In addition, research by the National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre has shown there are nearly two million older Australians who are willing to work, could be encouraged to work, or are unemployed and looking for work. Their research also showed that there is a significant economic cost for not utilising the skills and experience of older Australians, this cost being estimated at $10.8 billion a year.

The government has recently shown further interest in the participation of older people in the workforce with a report released last month by the Australia Law Reform Council Access All Ages—Older Workers and Commonwealth Laws which looked at existing legal barriers for mature age workers and recommendations for tackling these.

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