Article by Ian Yates courtesy Council on the Ageing.

Reducing ageism is one of Australia’s most often missed opportunities. The rewards for older people, the economy and society as a whole would be great, while the effort needed to unlock those rewards is comparatively small.

Ageism is unfortunately experienced in many areas, but ageism at work is the most damaging to people and the economy, and the most economically rewarding for Australia to fix.

Every day we hear about worker shortages. Yet, there are hundreds of thousands of older workers – many highly skilled and experienced – who would love to work but aren’t.

The official figures confirm this, with older workers dominating the long-term unemployed. Those numbers are exceeded by those who have dropped out of the system – discouraged, disincentivised and disappeared.

There are legal, structural and cultural reasons for ageism in the workforce.

Older people who want to work should be able to. We’d all be better off if they did.

The benefits to the economy are clear. The benefits for older workers should be just as clear.

Older people who want to spend their days focused on golf, grandchildren or volunteering will and can. But too many of those who would prefer the social engagement, intellectual stimulation and income and superannuation of having a job are unable to.

To get older people back into the workforce the answer is not just incentives such as bonus payments (though these may help, to a degree), or more punitive rules in the welfare system. Instead, we need government, business and society to recognise that the barriers to remaining in the workforce, or returning to it, are too high.

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