Pension changes, age discrimination and workplace automation are driving older Australians into poverty
The first of October is the International Day of Older Persons. The United Nations want us to put the spotlight on age discrimination, and so we should. A perfect storm is brewing against older workers: unless we think carefully about it, we’re going to end up with a huge cohort of older Australians spending 15 or 20 years on the dole, living in poverty, while they wait to qualify for the Age Pension.
Age discrimination is already rife in Australia, with over a quarter of older job seekers reporting being affected by it. When you combine this with the push to lift the Age Pension access age to 70, the rise of contract and casual employment, and the current and projected impact of technology on the demand for skills, the situation for many older workers looks grim. If you’re an older woman, trying to return to the workforce after raising children, then things are going to be particularly hard for you.
Many studies have been published over the last few years predicting that vast numbers of jobs (or tasks) are likely to be automated in the coming decades. There are differences between the predictions, but there are areas where they all agree. A recent report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia estimated that 40% of Australian jobs are highly like to be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) and robots in the next ten to 15 years. That’s a staggering change in such a short space of time. In a few decades, almost nobody will be driving vehicles for a living, and that transition is expected to begin in the next few years in wealthy western countries. (Uber and Lyft are already trialling self-driving cars with customers in the US – albeit with human engineers still, for the moment, sitting in the driver’s seat).
Some are predicting the demand for human labour will decrease – in other words there will actually be less jobs – while others suggest that this technological change will be like every other since the industrial revolution, where some jobs are destroyed while others are created. It doesn’t matter which is correct for many older workers: if their existing job is destroyed, their chance of retraining and restarting in a new career is slim.
This isn’t a dystopian vision of a distant future. It’s already happening.
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Warwick Smith is a research economist at progressive think tank Per Capita.