What is the reality of being over 50 and unemployed

What is the reality of being over 50 and unemployed, the harsh reality that ageism has on you trying to find another job?

Whether it’s through retrenchment, health issues, resignation or seeking employment …….

The reality is not good for many people that find themselves over 50
and unemployed in later in life”.

Infographic of  unemployment rates of 50 plus Australian workers

This is the consequence of

  • current economic conditions
  • retirees’ low level of individual savings
  • prejudice (ageism) towards older jobseekers
  • retirees psychologically unsatisfied or unprepared for retirement
  • the increasing number of older workers overall in the workforce

The reality is that with a growing number of older workers now trying to return to the workforce, together with older workers looking for work has meant that an increasing number of older workers cannot find employment.

Unemployment rates for workers over 50

Over 50 and unemployed the fact for workers over 50 infographic

What is the cost of being over 50 and unemployed?

If you are over 50 years of age and are seeking employment, many older Australians will apply for the Newstart allowance. (5) This is a government income support payment while you’re unemployed and looking for work.

Older unemployed job seekers will be expected to survive on $40 a day until they can find employment or become eligible to receive the age pension.

Many unemployed older workers are not eligible for this allowance as they would not be able to satisfy the governments means test criteria due to the dollar amount of assets and possessions that they own.

To survive many older Australians are forced to access their superannuation savings earlier. This early draw down on their savings will certainly have a long turn impact upon their retirement nest egg.

They will have to either retire on a lot less income than they planned for meaning that they would most likely outlive their savings. Alternatively, if they find employment, they will be required to work for many more years than they anticipated.

Ageist stereotypes of older job seekers


Is the prejudice or discrimination based on the age of a person or who appear physically “old”. Older job seekers may experience ageism from recruiters and employers. This appears to be based on entrenched negative stereotypes towards older workers obtaining employment.

More than 1/4 of Australian workers aged 50-plus have experienced age discrimination, according to a 2015 Australian Human Rights Commission Survey. (7)

An example of ageism is the misconception that some recruiters have by assuming an older job seeker with many years of experience or who has held more senior positions in the past;

– will grow bored with a lower-level managerial position,
– are unproductive,
– more costly,
– too set in their ways, and
– technologically incompetent.

Therefore they think the job seeker will either leave the organisation in a short time or would not be a good cultural fit.

find a job at 50 Unemployed older male searching employment classifieds
Research from Mercer (8)

The research has found that negative perceptions of the skills and abilities of older workers to learn was a common type of age discrimination. (5)

This bias whether deliberate or unconscious towards the over 50 and unemployed job applicants is detrimental in improving the employment opportunities of the over 50 and unemployed workers. 

“Older job seekers are perceived as too old to work,
but too young to retire”.

Ageism is alive

Employers need to adjust to an ageing workforce and be increasingly open-minded about older candidates and not make judgments about a person’s capacity or abilities to perform the job role solely based on age alone.

Potential employers often perceive older workers through a stereotypical ageism attitude that hinders employment opportunities. Older job seekers with good work histories in various managerial and professional roles are often perceived as a threat.

Younger less experienced managers can feel threatened or intimidated by the experience that a new mature job applicant can bring to a role. Though short-sighted, it appears to be the reality.

Employers and recruitment consultants often use a range of euphemisms in an interview or whenever feedback is sought from yet another unsuccessful interview.

There is a range of ageism phrases but some of the common ones include:

  • “you’re over-qualified for this position”
  • “this is a fast-dynamic workplace”, and
  • “we’re looking for someone with more experience with new ideas”.

These phrases reflect the existence of ageism stereotypes held by many employers and HR consultants and JobActive providers.

Unfortunately, 15 -20 years’ experience is obviously not enough for some employers!

Ageism can be subtle and it’s the way employers treat older workers and mature job applicants.

  • Allowing disrespectful behaviour by younger coworkers when older workers are referred to as ‘geriatric, pops, old woman” etc
  • Older workers are not considered or denied advancement in favour of younger workers
  • Employers need to be open-minded with older workers by casting aside the outdated attitudes pervading many human resource departments across the country.

Worsening skills shortages

One independent survey was undertaken by Robert Half a recruitment firm suggested that

Over 50 and unemployed, Older worker man fixing electrical power point in wall,

86% of Australian companies are concerned that they will suffer a skills shortage of qualified professionals because of the continuing ageing population of Australia’s workforce. (4)

It is predicted that by 2029 that 90% of Australia’s 5.5 million Baby Boomers will have exited the workforce to live their retirement life.

This would mean that approximately 18% of our overall population will be retired!

The changing demographics of the workforce will see the increasing need for all workplaces to ensure the unique skills and acknowledge of their older workers are not lost.

This may be beneficial to the already employed older workers but does not seem it will convert to reducing the current unemployment levels of over 50’s and unemployed.


1. Australian Bureau of Statistic 6238.0 – Retirement and Retirement Intentions, Australia, July 2016 to June 2017 and 3101.0 – Australian Demographic Statistics, Jun 2017

2. Australian Government – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Older Australia at a Glance Report Sept 2018

3. STATE OF THE (OLDER) NATION 2018A nationally representative survey prepared for the COTA Federation (Councils on the Ageing) December 2018

4. Rober Half 86% of Australian businesses concerned Baby Boomer departure will worsen skills shortage July 26, 2019

6. Seniors – Benefits and Payments – Age Pension –

7. National Prevalence Survey of Age Discrimination in the Workplace Report 2015 Australian Human Rights Commission Survey.

8. Mercer – Not focused on your experienced workforce? You should be Will Burkitt Feb 2020

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the reality of being over 50 and unemployed in Australia?

The reality is if your aged 50 years and over you will spend 2.5 times longer unemployed than any other aged group. This equates to approximately 7 years unemployed.

What are the 3 most common examples of ageism phrases used?

– “your overqualified for this job”
– “were looking for someone that ccan fit into our fast, dynamic workplace”
– “we’re looking for someone with more experience and bring new ideas”.

What is one of the biggest insights older job seekers discover when looking for work?

Many older job seekers discover in addition to the range of ageist prejudices they endure from delaing with some recruitment firms and employers their skills and experiences they developed over the years from training and practical and work experience are not valued or required by many employers.

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