Prime-time workers crowding Newstart

PEOPLE in the prime of their working lives make up the largest share of the population on unemployment benefits, a trend unions and social services groups say reflects greater insecurity at work.

While older workers face a greater risk of long-term unemployment, official figures show those aged 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 are the two biggest groups to receive Newstart payments. The two groups account for nearly half of all Newstart recipients. The next largest group are those aged between 45 and 54.

The chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service, Cassandra Goldie, said the extent of Newstart payments to people in their 30s and 40s was affected by the growing prevalence of irregular and casual work, which was being felt by workers of all ages.

''The idea that there's a job for life is no longer the reality in Australia,'' Dr Goldie said.

''People can lose their job and this can happen in the prime of your working life, and then it becomes really hard.

''Often there's a need to retrain … and if you don't have the financial resources to do that you can get really stuck.''

ACTU president Ged Kearney said there were anecdotal reports that many people who had finished studying or training were struggling to find full-time work, leading to a cycle of casual or irregular employment.

''What we've seen is people are caught in short-term work or casual labour,'' she said.

''This certainly is a story we're hearing from a lot of people in their late 20s and 30s.''

Although people in their prime working years account for the highest share of Newstart benefits, those aged over 55 have a higher risk of long-term unemployment - being out of work for a year or more.

The Australian Human Rights Commission recently told a senate committee that 33 per cent of unemployed people aged 55 to 64 had been jobless for a year or more, compared with 22 per cent for those between 35 and 44.

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