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Covid-19 recession causing job losses in older workers and housing stress in young

Rising rates of housing stress, particularly among younger Australians, and job losses among workers aged 51 to 65 show the Covid-19 recession is causing insecurity at both ends of the life cycle, according to two new reports.

Nearly a third of people who have lost work or had hours cut as a result of the pandemic are aged 51 to 65 – fuelling “rapid growth” in the number of mature-age, low-income Australians who may fall through the cracks of government support, according to one paper prepared by the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Nous Group.

In a separate study, the Australian National University found the proportion of Australians not able to meet their regular housing costs jumped from 6.9% in April to 15.1% in May, with young people the hardest hit.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence paper estimates nearly 400,000 Australians aged 51 to 65 have either lost work or had their hours cut as a result of the downturn.

“Not yet eligible for the pension or aged care, many of these people are caught between employment and retirement: too old to work and too young to retire,” it says.

The paper – titled “Hidden in plain sight” – calls on the government to address discrimination experienced by mature-age workers and ensure social security benefits such as the jobseeker payment “remain above subsistence levels”.

In the short term, the paper calls for extra funding for financial counselling and support for critical needs such as utilities, public transport and medical services.

The paper finds that industries affected by the Covid-19 shutdowns are often significant employers of mature-age people, along with other precarious and low-wage groups. Based on industry breakdowns, the largest number of job losses or hour reductions among people aged 51 to 65 are accommodation and food services, education and training, and retail trade.

Dr Amber Mills, a senior research fellow at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, told Guardian Australia the loss of a job had “the potential to set off a cascade of other events”.

Asked why the challenges facing people aged 51 to 65 were “hidden in plain sight”, Mills said: “I think they’re not a group that typically one might think would be struggling because the assumption is that people in that age group who had an extensive working life would have resources to fall back on. In many instances that’s true and in many instances that’s not true.”

The report says while governments have introduced some measures targeted at older Australians, they are primarily aimed at over-65s. And it says the unemployed face “significant hardship” if the government proceeds with the scheduled removal of the temporary increase in jobseeker, formerly known as Newstart, in September.

The report says mature-age people on low incomes already faced a range of challenges prior to the pandemic – including difficulty regaining full-time employment. With the Covid-19 recession increasing unemployment across the board, greater competition for available jobs is expected.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence has previously described how mature-age workers who retired involuntarily could become stuck in a “netherworld” or pushed into poverty and disadvantage. “The pandemic has widened the gap of opportunity for this group and raised challenges to others who may have previously been just getting by,” the new report says.

The paper says women have been particularly badly affected, because traditionally “female-dominated” sectors often have less secure employment and lower wages. Women are also likely to have less superannuation available than men because of the gendered pay gap and time out of the workforce.

Other groups experiencing these challenges “in particularly significant and complex ways” are refugees and new migrants, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and anyone facing stigma or discrimination due to disability. The Brotherhood of St Laurence paper says workers ineligible for the jobkeeper wage subsidy and those out of the labour market are also at serious risk of rental stress or homelessness, with the widespread economic shock of Covid-19 making the housing and private rental markets “highly volatile”.

The ANU study, based on a longitudinal survey of 3,200 Australians, also found particularly high levels of rental stress among people aged 18 to 24, with 445 unable to pay their rent on time.

The study’s co-author, Matthew Gray, said young Australians were likely to have low accumulated savings and wealth, meaning their rental stress was higher even “once income and socioeconomic status is controlled for”.

The survey found that 22.2% of mortgage holders benefited from policies by banks to reduce or freeze mortgage repayments, while more than 10% renters have been able to reduce or freeze their rent.

Gray warned “if incomes start to fall at the bottom end of the income distribution, then many Australians will be on shaky ground”.

The study also found an almost threefold increase in housing stress for Australians aged 35 to 44 over the same period, with the proportion rising from 5.9% to 19.1%.

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Originally published: https://www.theguardian.com/

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