- Aging & Longevity
Increasing the Official Age of Retirement
Heated debate on Age of Retirement
There is quite a heated debate going on here in Australia concerning a possible government proposal to increase the official age people should retire from the workforce. The government’s concern is that too many people are living well past the age at which they cease paid employment and are using welfare payments to keep them from thereon. It is not sustainable, they say, and most people probably know this to be the case. But we are not all ruled by logic. The emotional aspects raised here need to be considered. “I’ve paid my taxes all my life, why shouldn’t I now be supported by an old age pension?” is a common cry. Moreover, it is valid cry. Why shouldn’t we?
We are all living a lot longer.
Can we afford it?
The answer is that the taxes we’ve paid over, say, forty-five or even fifty years of life could well fall short of what is needed to keep us in an aged pension for the next twenty-five or thirty years. For that is how long people are living. When the age pension came in around a hundred years ago most people died either before they were due for that pension or within two or three years of receiving it. They were dead and gone by their early or middle sixties. Now people are living well into their eighties. Moreover, this longevity is expected to increase with people dying in their nineties. So it is easy to see that what we’ve paid in taxes over our working life might well fall short of what is needed to keep us from the time we retire to the time we go to our graves.
No Sudden Increase
The government does not intend to suddenly put the pension up by five years. No, rather it would be implemented in stages. It might take four or five years to reach that seventy years age mark. But there is something here which is not considered. Leastways, it does not seem to be considered. It is this:
Are people in retirement really burdens on society?
Who really does contribute to our society?
When does a person cease to contribute to the welfare of our community? Is it when they stop earning a living? Or is it when they cease undertaking tasks which are of benefit to the community at large? We know that just prior to the 2000 Olympic Games held here in Sydney, Australia, thousands of retiree volunteers stepped up to allow the games to happen relatively cheaply compared with the costs which would have been involved had they not done so. All manner of tasks were gladly undertaken, saving the Australian Taxpayers probably tens of millions of dollars.
What about the RFS, the SES and others?
If this were a one-off as far as volunteers helping the taxpayer with costs it could be discounted. But this country is filled with volunteer organizations and agencies. The Rural Fire Service frequently has thousands of volunteers out fighting bush fires. The Rural Fire Service volunteers far outnumber their professionally paid counterparts. They risk their lives, take days off work – often forfeiting their pay if they are still working. But a great many of them are retirees, men in their late fifties and sixties, even seventies, putting themselves on the line and doing it for no money.
The same applies to our State Emergency Services, the SES. They’re out there in the storms and floods, often risking their lives to help others and, like the volunteer fire fighters, are often men who have retired from the paid workforce.
So who’s helping the Public Purse?
So where does this volunteering end, where do we draw a line and say “This is helping the community save the ‘Public Purse’ and where does it not? If you take a look at many of the Service organizations such as Rotary, Lions, Masons and many others today you will find that there are a great percentage of retirees in those groups. They work every bit as hard as those who are still earning a living to make life better through the various causes. They raise money. They raise a lot of money, often for causes that are overlooked or ignored by governments.
My wife is a member of the Country Women’s Association and has been for around a quarter of a century. The CWA raises money for charity. The CWA ladies work for no pay. As do the VIEW Clubs, raising money for the Smith Family – another charitable agency. They, too, are all volunteers who receive no payment for their efforts.
What about the indirect ways volunteers help?
Then there are the off-shoots who, on the face of it, don’t raise money directly for charity but do so in indirect ways. One such organization is the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association (ASCCA) This organization’s volunteers teach retirees computer skills. The people who learn these skills, as often as not, use them to help their own volunteer groups raise money for charity. Thus, indirectly, just about any volunteer group who contributes to the common weal is good news. They are not a burden. They could be more likened to ‘wind beneath the wings’ of many of societies unfulfilled needs.
Who deserves government support?
The argument I put forward is this: Everyone who contributes to the welfare of others, whether they are paid for their work or whether they are volunteers should be included as being worthy of being supported by government. They should not be disparaged as ‘free loaders’ or a burden upon society. A person might retire at, say, fifty-five, have a little superannuation coming in as a regular annuity, and still be entitled to a part or full time pension, and be well deserving of it. Such a person might go on – and a great many do – undertaking volunteer unpaid work for the next twenty-five years. They may not grow too old and incapacitated until the last few months, or even days, of their lives. They are not a burden for twenty-five years. They are an asset.
I recall reading many years ago that some of the European countries had a really admirable system as far as people getting towards the retiring age. What was done was that, around five years before a person was due for retirement, their working week would be gradually decreased. At say, sixty-one, they’d be dropped to a four-day working week. After a year or two later this would drop to a three-day working week, then two. This would enable the upcoming retiree to gradually reduce their work load and prepare for retirement. The increasing free time would enable them to find alternative things to do with their lives. There would then be no ‘sudden break.’ They’d have time to find meaningful lives after their days of paid work were over. To me, this is a splendid system.
Why won’t employers hire older workers?
Okay, I am not against an increase in the age at which workers retire from the paid workforce. For me it is academic. I’m already retired and have been since 1995 – eighteen years in retirement and loving it. But when I took voluntary redundancy from a job I hated in that year I tried repeatedly to obtain further work. I genuinely wanted to work – but in a field I felt I could contribute best and also like what I was doing. I applied for well over a hundred positions. I had about a dozen replies to my applications. I had three interviews; and made the short list twice. Each time I was told I told – tactfully – that I was too old. At fifty-nine I was too old?
At that time I’d had forty-four years in the workforce across a wide selection of jobs. I was an experienced person. I thought of myself as very employable with much to offer employers. They thought differently. So, the way I see it, if I – who had been employed in one or two of the most sought after jobs there are – could not obtain work at fifty-nine, what chance the majority? Pretty slim, I’d say.
Who has the human relationship skills and worldly wisdom?
The point overlooked by so many employers is that they do not take into consideration the human relationship-type skills and wisdom of so many older workers. These are the stable workers. These are the men and women who have proved themselves as reliable and resourceful. If I were an employer I would not hesitate to hire older people to work for me. I would prefer them, in fact. Unfortunately, there are many who are in the position to hire and fire who do not like to employ people older than themselves. Whether it is a sense of intimidation, or that they’re might not know as much as these oldsters could well be part of it.
One reason for rejection of older workers.
When I re-joined the Australian Public Service in 1978, after spending a year as an Antarctic expeditioner, I found that I was overlooked for promotion year after year. I was forty-one when I joined them. I was promoted only twice in seventeen years. At that time I was informed by many others who came into that organization late, e.g. over forty, that we could hardly be expected to be promoted when those on the ‘promotions selection committees’ were usually young enough to be our sons or daughters. I expect such an attitude still prevails. People who are able to promote people worry, I suspect, they might be overtaken by those oldsters they have promoted.
Most jobs today can be handled by older workers.
We know there are jobs suitable only for the young. We know there is work where the physical requirements are such that only those, say, under thirty or thirty-five have the necessary physical attributes. But for the bulk of work today, age is not relevant. Older people can not only handle it, they can, with appropriate training, probably handle it as well or better than those who are still young.
So, my conclusion is that, yes, the age of retirement should be gradually increased until at least seventy. People are still active and fit at seventy – or they should be. The provisos are that their working week should be gradually reduced to four days, then three, until seventy, thus enabling them to go smoothly into retirement. Most importantly, they should not be regarded as a burden on society as is so commonly the case today. For the non-paid retiree makes up the bulk of the volunteers in this country of ours and probably will do so for far, far into the future. They save the Taxpayer countless millions of dollars, a point that should never be forgotten.
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