Older Australians are staying in or returning to the workforce more now than ever, with new data finding that nearly 40% of new workers entering the workforce since the start of the pandemic were over 55 years old.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Labour Force Survey revealed that the national workforce grew by nearly 491,000 between October 2019 and October 2022 and 38% of those workers were 55 years old or over.
As the cost of living rises, more older Australians are finding it hard to pay for life’s expenses and need to either come out of retirement or put it off.
National Seniors Australia Chief Advocate, Ian Henschke, said the country is facing a large workforce shortage and when the flow of overseas workers stopping because of COVID, employers needed to open their doors wider and employ older people.
He explained that this was a great opportunity to “reset the country’s social structure” and help fight ageism.
“We know that prior to COVID, there was a prejudice against older workers,” said Mr Henschke.
“It hasn’t fully gone, but it has now been effectively defeated by circumstance.
“It’s harder to be ageist if you work with older people and it’s a great opportunity to reset the country’s social structure.”
Older people returning to work is only going to become more common, especially in a post-pandemic world with workplaces offering more flexible and accommodating work options such as working from home.
This is seen as a way for employees to gain a better work-life balance and will help older people return to employment.
“What we are seeing is a great un-retirement, primarily driven by more favourable workplace conditions,” said KPMG demographer and urban economist, Terry Rawnsley, in the Sydney Morning Herald.
“We have seen a long-term trend of people working for longer, but the impact of the pandemic looks to have encouraged more older people to return to the labour force.”
In December, older people of Age Pension age and eligible veterans became able to earn more income from working without causing a reduction in their pension, announced by the Federal Government at last year’s Jobs and Skills Summit.
But Mr Henscke said that wasn’t enough and we need to adopt a new Age Pension system that would allow older people to work even more without it impacting their pension, similar to that of New Zealand.
“We get punished for working, it’s a punitive system,” he said.
“We could fill these gaps in the workforce if we change the system and allow our older workers to work without fear of losing their pension.”