You know you are getting old when your country’s Treasurer is called “Josh” and a senator who goes by “Cory” are retiring. Certainly the Treasurer’s recent suggestion that “older Australians” keep on working past what was once considered a respectable retirement age, and to retrain if necessary in order to do so, caused ripples of dissent among readers of The Australian, whose comments were often borderline acerbic.
When combined with the suggestion by the normally very sage Adam Creighton that capital gains in one’s family home accrued from Australia’s ludicrous and seemingly endless housing bubble – a pretty ordinary house in the very ordinary town of Mullumbimby in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales will set you back around a mill – be taxed in some way, the ageing among us might be forgiven for being a little tetchy.
There is one obvious flaw in the Treasurer’s masterplan. People over sixty, perhaps even over fifty, can’t get jobs.
Many readers will have either been the victim of, or know someone who has been the victim of, age discrimination in the workplace. You can seldom prove it, of course, because this most insidious of the various, much more widely discussed forms of discrimination (mostly figments of the fevered imaginations of human rights bureaucrats), is normally very cleverly hidden, either in craftily penned job descriptions or through other means during the job selection process.
Mind you, a former colleague of mine in New Zealand once let slip in a meeting that her organisation has once been “forced” to hire a “sixty-five year old”. Ouch. And I was aware once of an older academic applying for a job at professor level, only to be pipped at the post by a younger, far less credentialled academic who told me that he got the job – at an altered, lower academic level – because he had more years of productive (that is, money making) work ahead of him at the university. But conversations like this are rare. HR departments across the nation want to keep this a secret!
Recent US research shows that more than half of older American workers are pushed out of long-term jobs before they want to retire. As an article describing the research says, “if you’re over fifty, chances are the decision to leave a job won’t be yours.”
One “lucky” American opined wistfully, “I’m glad to be employed … but this isn’t what I would have planned for this point in my life.” The study noted:
Through 2016, our analysis found that between the time older workers enter the study and when they leave paid employment, 56 percent are laid off at least once or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily.
Only one in 10 of these workers ever again earns as much as they did before their employment setbacks … Even years afterward, the household incomes of over half of those who experience such work disruptions remain substantially below those of workers who don’t.
IBM has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar:
In a story this year, ProPublica described how IBM has forced out more than 20,000 U.S. workers aged 40 and over in just the past five years in order to, in the words of one internal company planning document, “correct seniority mix.” To accomplish this, the company used a combination of layoffs and forced retirements, as well as tactics such as mandatory relocations seemingly designed to push longtime workers to quit.
The effect on self-esteem and mental health of losing your job in your fifties, not to mention the impact on the family bank balance, is severe, needless to say. And generally there is no going back. The combo of a fickle, outsourced, “gig” labour market full of perennially re-structuring corporates and other organisations and the embedded ageism in the workplace is simply lethal. LinkedIn probably won’t help much either. Neither will those helpful emails one gets from seek.com.
No wonder the opioid crisis in the USA is so well entrenched, and no wonder that so many regional towns across our own wide brown land are riddled with addictive behaviours that go hand in glove with the widespread under-employment.
So the thought of the government taxing the family home after it has already messed endlessly with your super, and is now trying to make you work into your seventies, is pretty galling. That is, if you are lucky enough actually to get another job having retired or having been retired by some upstart in short pants. A job that will likely pay you far less than the one from which you were “transitioned out”, and probably employ you for far fewer hours. Oh, and you might have to go away, even hundreds of miles, and be separated from your loved ones, in order to snag that job. I had to move to another country, since my own was indeed no country for old men.
Then we see these governments of ours wasting the money they appropriate from us on such hare-brained schemes as “climate action”, renewable energy, make-work universities, subsidised child care and endlessly upgraded infrastructure to support the hordes of migrants that we never consented to receive. Or, if you are lucky enough to live in Daniel Andrews’ Victoria, forming large squads of detectives to hunt down innocent cardinals. Ageing cardinals at that.
No, Josh and Adam, the ageing are, decidedly, not happy campers.
In these circumstances, one is reminded of the story of the self-effacing retired gent who sought out opportunities for volunteer work in a local organisation. After a time volunteering at this place, and exhibiting a less-than- rigorous approach to arrival time, he began to be castigated by some youngish middle-management type for turning up a late for “work”. Gently at first, but with increasing vigour, the young man, sought to extract from the retired gentleman the reasons for his lack of punctuality. Did he have some sort of a problem getting to “work” on time? The older man took all this in good grace. Another volunteer, new to the old man, wandered by during one of these gentle chastisements and offered to make him a cup of tea. Being polite, she asked, “What did your colleagues used to call you in the workplace?” Normally “General”, he replied.
Nice try, young Josh and Adam, but we are not impressed. If you are going to be offensive, at least be clued-up. It feels to me that Josh’s brain snap was probably the result of a brainstorming session of his army of, no doubt, thirty-something staffers and disappointingly unresourceful modern Treasury officials.
Yes, Australia does have an ageing population, with depressing implications for the budget bottom line and for pensions in particular. Peter Costello figured that out. What even Costello’s illustrious predecessor Paul Keating, who, indeed, invented compulsory superannuation, did not figure out was that all the super in the world would not actually make a dent in our pensions budget.
Perhaps the policy gnomes who run the country might consider employing a few sixty-somethings – for free, even – to try and come up with better ideas for our country’s fiscal challenges than those aired these past few days by our junior betters. “Stop wasting the money that you steal from us” might be one of the early, provisional conclusions reached by an ageing policy taskforce so employed.
Another might be, “do far less” and “don’t try to solve problems that do not exist” might be a third. Or even, “stop talking about issues that we do not care about”. Like transgendered bathrooms. Finally, “cut half the meetings you currently have”. Fewer meetings might mean fewer idiot ideas.
These are just some initial suggestions. I am sure there are plenty of others that us old farts might come up with over a beer or three. Astonishingly, a recent survey suggests that I am not alone in my reactions. I’m shocked. Shocked!.
(With apologies to Cormac McCarthy).