White Collar

Don’t write off the elderly’s value to the economy, help them flourish

The government is desperate to funnel generous support and finance to youngsters setting up in business, so we must now allocate more resources to help retirees realise their own dreams and aspiration too

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 10:55pm

The Hong Kong government regularly underlines its priority to help youngsters set up their own businesses – but surely now it’s time to garner too, the same enthusiasm for an equally able, and arguable more experienced workforce into action.

Hongkongers are not only living longer, but working longer too.

The average life expectancy for Hong Kong men will increase from 81.3 last year to 87.1 by 2066, and for women from 87.3 to 93.1, in most cases well ahead of Western counterparts.

Hong Kong has no official retirement age – but many private companies show them the door at 60.

But on average, men who retired last year are expected to finance another 21.3 years of life after that, while the average woman is facing more than a quarter of a century, or 27.3 years, of life. By 2066, that’s 27.1 years for men and 33.1 years for women without taking salary.

Regardless of how good a person’s retirement plans are, many are now reported to be struggling to cope with paying for their extra years, in an increasingly expensive Hong Kong, and more are having to face the brutal fact they are facing an era of “no retirement”, well past 60, just to live what they can justifiably expect to be a comfortable existence.

The main problem is, of course, that the number of jobs traditionally suited for older workers are disappearing, as we enter the technology age.

Many trains and cars might not need drivers soon, warehouses can already operate robotically, without the need for fork-lift drivers or storemen, shops are becoming rarer, as we order goods online, delivered direct to our doorsteps, and even checkouts at supermarkets are becoming increasingly faceless.

Finding a job as a retiree is becoming tricker daily, but the statistics show many are already thinking on their feet and starting up on their own after 60 – a trend which has been growing fast for years in Japan, the country with the oldest population in Asia.

The average Japanese man set up his own business at 49.7-years-old in 2012, compared with 39.7 year old in 1979. For women, it also rose to 44.7-years-old in 2012, compared with 37.1 year old in 1979, according to the recent released “2017 White Paper on Small and Medium Enterprises in Japan” released by the country’s Ministry of Economy.

The Ministry data already shows thousands of elderly entrepreneurs doing a lot of internet-based and sharing economy-related activities.

Growing numbers of Hongkongers in their 50s and 60s, after gaining valued working experience, are already seeing no reasons why they can’t also be successful in setting up their businesses.

This marked shift in workforce patterns, certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed in Hong Kong, and already programmes are being set up and delivered, offering greying entrepreneurs free rent for certain periods of time after start-up, tax benefits and initial funding. But they are still relatively scant in number.

The government appears desperate to funnel generous support and finance to youngsters setting up in business, so we must now allocate more resources to help retirees realise their own dreams and aspiration too, well into their twilight years.

Let’s consider sprightly, older Hongkongers as a valuable commodity, which could be of massive benefit to the city, well past their official 60th sell-by date.