Let’s stop thinking of 65 as the benchmark age of retirement

Workers over 65 now account for 12 per cent of Hong Kong’s job rolls and employers want them

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 2:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 11:08pm

Hong Kong faces an increasingly “worrying” demographic challenge in the coming years with new population data released by government statisticians yesterday revealing an accelerated pace of ageing over the last decade.

SCMP, February 28

Iam a green card holder. Luckily, my green card is not one issued by the United States immigration authorities of the sort that makes the holder subject to US tax attack anywhere in the world. You don’t want that sort of green card, folks. It’s bad for you.

No, mine is the sort of green card that says “Deet!” instead of “Doot!” when I press it on the Octopus card reader on the bus. It then reduces my fare to HK$2.

I have also collected all my Mandatory Provident Fund benefits and never need to make an MPF contribution again. I am a bona fide senior citizen, a member of the “ ‘worrying’ demographic challenge”.

And here is what I have to say to our government statisticians about their latest findings: I sympathise, fellows. Too many of you civil servants are only good for the knackers’ yard by your mid-50s on account of all those years of endless, pointless, brain-numbing committee meetings.

But that’s only a small number of us, thank heavens. Look at my chart on the number of employed people over 60 years old in this town. We seniors now account for 9 per cent of the work force, up from 3 per cent 12 years ago. We are staying in the work force after we reach official retirement age.

The real leader in these trends, however, is Japan where 28 per cent of the population is now more than 65 years old. Hong Kong is still only at a ratio of 16 per cent.

Look at my chart on the number of employed people over 60 years old in this town. We seniors now account for 9 per cent of the work force, up from 3 per cent 12 years ago

Here are some further statistics for you on Japan. Workers over 65 now account for 12 per cent of the job rolls and employers want them. The unemployment rate for over-65s is 2 per cent versus 3.1 per cent overall for Japan. This statistic is even more impressive for women over 65 – an unemployment rate of only 1.2 per cent.

And while Japanese government medical insurance expenditures are rising, although at a restrained rate of only about 2.5 per cent a year, regular surveys show no increase over the last 10 years in household medical costs, either in total or as a proportion of household expenditure.

What then of this worry that an ageing population will saddle an economy with almost unbearable support costs? The Japanese experience so far, and it is well ahead of ours, suggests the worries are overdone.

Thus, let us first stop thinking of 65 as the benchmark age of retirement. Allow those who hate their jobs to retire at that age if they must, but make it 70 or even 75 for those who would rather continue to lead productive lives. We are generally healthier and longer-lived than people were three or four generations ago.

Let us also not worry so much about the medical costs. Yes, they are higher than for younger people but health costs are high for all the unhealthy and seniors who live healthy lives are not necessarily a bigger financial burden on the rest of society. Nor are end of life costs necessarily higher for people in their 80s than for people in their 40s.

But, yes, some provision for an older society is probably a good idea and here we are in a much better position than Japan, which has squandered its fiscal revenues and now carries government debt equivalent to 200 per cent of gross domestic product.

We, in contrast, have net government savings equivalent to 70 per cent of GDP. With it we can take the “worrying” out of our demographic challenge.

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