A large number of older Australians who have lost jobs during the pandemic will never return to the workforce and risk falling into poverty, advocates have warned.
On Thursday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released data showing the unemployment rate rose to 6.9 per cent in September – raising concerns that the older Australians among them would never find another job.
Currently, 1.4 million people are on JobSeeker.
At the start of the pandemic, roughly 100,000 people aged over 55 lost their jobs and now more than 318,000 are receiving welfare payments, according to the latest figures.
Jessica Harrison is one of them.
The 65-year-old old from Wonthaggi, a small country town in Victoria, says the pandemic has made it “impossible” to find a job.
“In the Gippsland region, there are 19,000 on JobActive and just over 1000 jobs that were advertised on SEEK last week,” she told The New Daily.
Ms Harrison has a part-time job as a cleaner but is forced to supplement her income with JobSeeker.
Over the past few months, she’s applied for every job possible but has heard nothing back from employers.
“Any job I think I can do I apply for,” she said.
“Receptionist jobs, an assistant at a local library, I’ve even applied for a park ranger job.
“Any time I see a job I could possibly do I apply for it, but I haven’t been successful.”
Ms Harrison has a mortgage to pay and worries that she won’t be able to cover unexpected expenses if JobSeeker falls to $40 a day on January 1, as is currently planned.
“We can’t budget because we don’t know what our rate of payments from the 31st of December [will be],” she said.
“That stresses me out.”
Because workers in their 20s have faced the biggest job losses, the scheme will pay employers a ‘hiring credit’ of $200 a week if they hire a worker aged under 29 and $100 a week for a worker aged under 35.
National Seniors Australia chief advocate Ian Henschke said there was nothing “in the budget for over 55s” to help them get into work.
“What’s worrying me at the movement is we have an ageist society, which doesn’t provide secure employment for older Australians,” he said.
“So they often find themselves out work because a lot of employers talk about trimming the tree and growing new shoots.
“Meaning get rid of your senior personnel and bring in junior ones. That’s what is happening in the public and private sectors.”
Mr Henschke said the government should invest in apprenticeships for older workers, training them properly in places such as aged care.
“The federal government have said we’re going to need 600,000 new workers in aged care by 2050,” he said.
“There’s an opportunity to provide 10s of thousands of better paid, better-trained jobs to mature workers in aged care.”
Before COVID-19, the fastest growing cohort of JobSeeker recipients was women aged over 55.
In 2019, half of all the people on the payments were aged 45 years or above. And of those aged 60 and over, more than half were women.
Australian Unemployed Workers Union spokesperson Kristin O’Connell said this cohort would only grow larger as a result of the pandemic.
“We know once people lose their jobs in the older age bracket there is a perception from employers they don’t have the right skills, so they struggle to overcome aged decimation in the workforce,” she said.
“The government doesn’t have a plan to get these folks into work.”
As mature aged workers are frozen out of the workforce, many will slip into poverty, she said.
“The government is doing nothing to support them. Instead, they’re shoving them onto the poverty line.”
Meanwhile, the competition for jobs is enormous. This week, a new report from Anglicare found there were 106 job seekers for every entry-level job in Australia.
Anglicare Australia Executive Director Kasy Chambers said the people who need the most help were being left behind.
“There aren’t enough jobs at their skill level to meet demand in any part of the country,” Ms Chambers said.
“Many of the job seekers we’re looking at are older people who have been left out of the JobMaker scheme.
“They’re facing cuts to their payments, and they’re being forced to jump through hoops and apply for jobs.
“But our research shows the jobs just aren’t there.”