Asking the right questions

Kaye Fallick, publisher of YOURLifeChoices magazine, writes: Re. “Give nanna a job: why we must rethink ‘old age’” (yesterday). We desperately need to foster robust debate and the formation of strong policy on how to make the most of the demographic change that Australia is experiencing, and this article starts with the premise that society is “supporting” not one, but two generations, to quote “baby boomers in their 60s and their parents in their 80s and 90s”.

Time to let some facts to get in the way of a good cliche.

Society is all of us. Young, middle aged, old and older. Baby boomers are currently aged between 49 and 67. Most are still working full time, at the peak of their earning power and so contributing a huge proportion of the income tax take. Many are funding adult children, particularly when it comes to free food and board as well as shouldering huge HECS debts on their kids’ behalf. Many will have far fewer choices in retirement because of this generosity. Yes, some boomers in their 60s are moving into retirement. Many of them are self-funded, others are on full or part pensions. These retirees are leaving the workforce after decades of paying taxes that  have supported other generations.

It’s a similar story with their parents, who seem to somehow have committed a sin by living longer. My parents are a case in point. Now aged 85 and 90, they both worked from age 13 through to about 65. They are mainly self-funded in retirement.That’s an awful lot of decades of paying tax. You and I aren’t really supporting them at all — but their taxes did contribute to our primary, secondary and tertiary education and general welfare along the way.

It’s interesting, also, to consider the “old age” dependency ratio — with the word “dependency” embedded for all to unthinkingly adopt. Many older adults are not depending upon handouts. Many choose to work longer, and that can prove of great benefit to society, both financially and in terms of their wisdom and experience. But to expect all older adults to work longer to alter the “dependency” ratio is a gobsmackingly arrogant economic argument.

Economists rarely get this point, but people — whether younger, older or in-between — are not percentages we simply move in and out of the workforce to suit your preferred “dependency” ratio. The article is correct that we do need to seriously address the latent age discrimination inherent in our workforce in order to give those who wish to work longer the opportunity to do so. But simply raising the retirement age is a very crude response to a complex issue. To provide a fuller, richer context, the numbers we really need to crunch are those so often missing in action when any debate about the right policy to best manage ageing demographics arises. What about the net contribution of volunteers? Of caregivers? How much have different age groups contributed in taxation? What is a fair proportion for them to receive back in end-of-life care? And how do we encourage inter-generational co-operation to utilise the attributes of different age groups to best support each other as we move through the life course?

By addressing such issues, it may prevent us all thinking in patronising terms about giving nanna anything. Just ask her and she’ll tell you that she’s more than capable of going out and getting it for herself.

Joe Boswell writes: Emily Millane’s interesting piece on Australia’s ageing population referred to working age population as ages 15 to 64, and then quoted various statistics that are accurate “unless we change what it means to be ‘working age’.”

Changing what it means to be “working age” sounds like a good idea, regardless of the ageing population issue. How long is it since anyone went to full time work at age 15? Now that what passes for a university education or some tertiary qualification is a basic requirement for more or less every job going and government policy tries to lock everyone into education well into their 20s to rack up crippling tuition fee debts, surely working age realistically begins somewhere around 23? That would have quite an impact on the ratio of working age to old age populations. When Millane says, “It’s even worse than we thought” she was severely understating the problem.

Politics is an ass

Ignaz Amre writes: Re. “Media the real winners from a desperate, secret donations deal” (yesterday). I reckon this just pushed me over the edge to put in a donkey vote on September 14 for the first time ever!

Peter Fray

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