Overcoming the block of ages

“I hope I die before I get old,” sang Roger Daltrey in The Who’s iconic 1965 worldwide hit.

But he didn’t and neither did most of the generation whose power he was so outspokenly asserting.

Sure, there were casualties (not least his bandmate Keith Moon) but the overwhelming majority of “My Generation” has survived to what can only be described as old age.

Daltry himself is still working – probably not because he needs to, which puts him in a special category.
The fact is that most of the Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 when the world’s young men came home from war – came late to the super industry and still need some form of income to keep them alive.
And alive they are, although some politicians would seem to prefer otherwise – or at the very least expect an apology from them for being above the ground.

That’s because a greying population costs.

It costs in terms of housing, Medicare, the age pension (such as it is), social security benefits and so it goes. (Of course their contribution through lifetimes of tax paying is conveniently forgotten. Politics is focused on the time between today and the next election). And while it can only be a matter of time before a grey party emerges, the oldies are for now on their own.

But if you’re not sufficiently rich to live out your twilight years in modest comfort, free from the financial woes that plagued your working years, you’re far from alone.

The reasons will vary but most over 55s want to work. And most employers won’t have a bar of them.
I returned from Australia after completing an overseas contract in 2010. I took a year out to write a book during which time I was not a cost to the community. The book completed, I thought I’d go back to work.
Having signed up at the local Job Centre (as it then was), I very quickly realised that anybody over 50, much less 60, was seen as a hopeless case.

For example, there were classes in interviewing techniques and cv writing, workshops on self presentation to name a few.

No over-50s need attend, we weren’t quite told but were made aware.

That’s because in Australia, it is illegal to discriminate against people because of their age. But all the legislation has achieved is to drive this age bias underground.

It’s become the work discrimination that dare not speak its name.

Overseas employers have no need to be so coy and will tell you openly they have a policy of not hiring anybody over 60.

But in Australia, employers and some employment agencies have had to become adept at inventing reasons for not hiring over 55s.

The government – yes the same bunch that passed the anti-age discrimination law – was one such, if my personal experience and those of the over 50s in my Job Centre “class” are anything to go by.  It’s not at all clear why this prejudice should exist. Over 50s are, by and large, honest, hardworking, conscientious and are possessed of an experience bank hard to rival.

They take fewer sickies than their younger colleagues and are usually prepared to “go the extra mile” in the interest of their employer.

So why do so few employers want them? Throughout most of my own 30s, 40s and (early) 50s I was in positions that involved hiring – and I wouldn’t have hired an over-50 if you paid me. Why?

The reason is far from clear to me even now.  Maybe I thought “older” people were set in their ways and would be unwilling to learn in this fast-paced world.

Perhaps (I imagined) they lacked computer skills. Or maybe I thought like Roger Daltrey did – that you had to be young, keen and dismissive of the old ways to amount to anything.

“We all lose  when willing people are excluded from the workforce.”

It would never have occurred to me then that it was possible to be older, keener and wiser in old and new ways.
A careful examination of the reasons older people are seen as unemployable (or at least as last resorts) would surely pay dividends.

And as if on cue, the Australian Human Rights Commission, in response to a request by Attorney General George Brandis,  announces  Willing to Work: A National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination Against Older Australian and Australians with Disability to be led by the Age and Disability Commissioner, Susan Ryan.
“Willing to Work is most timely as employment rates for both older people and those with disability remain unacceptably low,” said Commissioner Ryan. “We all lose when willing people are excluded from workforce.
“Research by Deloitte shows that increasing the older workforce by five per cent would bring an extra $48 billion annually to Australia’s GDP.

 “The inquiry will seek to identify the barriers that prevent people from working, and in consultation with employers, affected individuals and other stakeholders establish strategies to overcome these barriers.”
The Inquiry will conclude and report by July 2016.

It’s a step forward. But surely the needs of the disabled and the “aged” are starkly distinct, meaning this inquiry will be hobbled before it starts.

But one suspects it’s better than nothing, however marginally.

Meanwhile the Inquiry will cogitate expensively and deliver a report next year filled with recommendations highly unlikely to be implemented in any effective way.

In the meantime, many thousands – more like millions – of people who have worked and contributed throughout most of their lives can struggle on.

So you can either try to live on the age pension while watching your savings decline like the indicator on your fuel tank or try to find an income.

There are, of course, options. All come with drawbacks.

You can live very cheaply overseas, for example. Places such as Bali, Thailand, Malta, Trinidad come to mind. Doubtless there are more.

But you’ll be far from the grandkids and health services – and don’t even dream of finding even part-time work there. They won’t let you.

Anyway, let’s not run away with the notion that being over 55 should be a guarantee of a job.
But we are, on the other hand, entitled to expect a fair go.

The government – any government – can’t have it both ways.

They can’t tell us the age of entitlement is over without opening the door for those with lifetimes of experience who are willing and able to work.

For example, how many over 60s has the Queensland government put on in the last, say, four years? Let’s ask them.

We’ll let you know their answer when we have one.


Matthew* is 63. Having spent most of his working life as a local government official he inherited some money and retired at age 61 with what he considered a reasonable self-funded pension.
He’s in excellent health and can afford the occasional overseas holiday.
“I’m not doing it hard compared with some I know but the collapsing interest rate has hurt people like me who seek to live off their investment income. I haven’t yet had to start eating into capital but I can see the day coming.
“The accepted wisdom seems to be that lower interest rates are good for the economy but I see no sign of it.
“I’m not thinking of going back to work – even if I could find a job – but I’m aware that I’m the exception rather than the rule.”

Sylvia* is a divorcee aged 60. She received just over $200,000 in the (voluntary) divorce settlement 15 years ago and used the money to buy a home.
She has since paid off the mortgage. She does volunteer work, having been made redundant from her state government clerical job two years ago.
“The house is all I have but I can’t live on it and will probably have to sell it as I refuse to be a burden on my children. I’m keen to work but haven’t been able to find anything so far. I’m still trying but don’t hold out a lot of hope. The redundancy payout was reasonable but there’s little of it left now.
“But having said that I know there’s plenty worse off than me.”