Senior citizen working
Forecasts predict the aged will account for 13% to 14% in 2025-2030. Photo by Reuters
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Some 30% of Israelis over age 65 who are able to work, don't.

If they did, they would generate income of NIS 6.4 billion a year, increasing GDP per capita by 4.5%, estimates a study by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

"The public debate in Israel focuses on the employment problems of Haredim and Arabs, or of the overall population, and ignores a sector where many want to work and have already proved they are capable of working, but nonetheless they are forced not to work," said Keren Harel-Harari and Zev Golan, authors of the study to be released today. "This is the mature population, 65 and older."

Today, only 12% of those 65 and older work, some 80,000 people. The employment rate of those nearing retirement age is much higher: 71.6% for men aged 60-64 and 63.1% for women.

Many countries recognize that older citizens want to continue working and they are the largest unexploited source of manpower available, wrote the authors. In Israel, out of more than 700,000 people past age 65, some 70% said they wanted to go on working. The institute took into account such factors as health, unemployment and differences in employment between men and women in their research. They found that some 220,000 elderly people have the potential to stay in the workforce.

Of course not everyone over 65 would work even if they were offered jobs, said Harel-Harari and Golan, and it is hard to know how many could find work. But not employing them is a clear loss to the economy, they said, noting that the growth rate of the elderly population is twice that of the population at large.

In 1955, 4.8% of the Israeli population was aged 65 or older, and this figure rose to 10% from 1995 to 2010. Forecasts predict the aged will account for 13% to 14% in 2025-2030.

Society cannot relate to them the way it has in the past, said the authors. "Turning so many productive people to forced unemployment is impossible economically and socially," they said.