We must embrace old idea of working longer

Finding ways to encourage, incentivise and promote employment among older people are policies worth debating and pursuing in Ireland, writes Joe Gill.

In Japan 12% of the working population are aged over 65, whereas in the UK and Ireland the percentage is closer to 3%. Moreover, Japanese life expectancy, at 84, is the highest in the world.

While part of that could be related to diet or genetics it does not appear as if work is a contributory factor to an early demise.

There are many reasons why policies should be radically changed to support extended working lives.

Firstly, it would help the economy’s wealth. By having active working contributors, society would gain from additional income tax revenues and lower pension liabilities, while older workers are often more reliable and dependable for many employers.

Secondly, health advances mean many people who, decades ago, needed to retire at 60 now have energy levels and an interest in work which was not as prevalent before.

Why should society oblige this age group to retire unless they work in roles that require high levels of physical fitness?

Of course, age in the modern western world is a tricky subject to discuss. An ocean of marketing and advertising material deliberately focuses on promoting products and services to young consumers.

Glamourising youth is the default option among most media marketing campaigns and that, in turn, implies negative imagery around age. That dynamic is not helped by the endlessly hopeless advertising targeting older consumers.

Pathetic adverts and publications supposedly caring about older consumers are, in fact, ageist insults that present everyone over 50 as a form of zombie caricature in need of pain relief or proximity to a zimmer frame.

Older people tend to be the wealthiest cohort in society having dispensed with mortgages and funded their children to adulthood.

We are now also experiencing the first generation passing 50 that largely escaped the smoking blight which destroyed previous generations.

That is delivering, relatively, much healthier consumers primed to contribute even more to society.

Government can consider a bunch of policy initiatives to promote greater participation by older workers in the community.

It could, for example, offer to provide pension bonuses if employees agree to work an extra five years or more. It could encourage employers to re-hire retired workers part-time.

These policies could also help alleviate pressure at a time when full employment is nearing.

Alongside managing the flow of available workers from older age groups, the way in which we shape migration policies can also be key enablers for the Irish economy.

Last week the US took a step forward to raising immigration quotas for Irish people.

While laudable, that will likely draw away educated young Irish individuals to an economy in dire need of healthy young workers, the very resource that could benefit Ireland at least as much.

Reports says six American senators have put a hold on the E3 visa while they seek more information but it has the support of US President Donald Trump.

At the same time, access to large flows of EU immigrants, many of whom have settled successfully in Ireland, plays a valuable role in driving the economy.

Simplistic analysis around population flows and immigration, which is widespread in Brexit-afflicted Britain, leads to poor outcomes.

Having choked off EU immigration the UK is now struggling to fill key roles in services, food production and healthcare.

Ireland must evolve its policies to ensure we can have workers flow in and out of the economy in a manner that sustains economic development.

Rather than follow, lemming like, the tendency among larger nations to become more nativist and bellicose, Ireland being faithful to the open trading principles that have defined our industrial policy for many years should be reflected in how we address migration flows too.

Alongside a more enlightened approach to older workers this can help solve the labour challenges posed by a strident economy.

- Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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