Are you one of the ‘everyday Australians’ politicians refer to?
Are you one of the “everyday Australians” we hear politicians talking about?
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- The median income in Australia is $48,360 before tax
- Low income earners are struggling to pay bills or meet healthcare needs with some returning to work in their 70s
- Sliding into debt becomes very easy for those trying to work and afford child care or health insurance
If you earn any more than $50,000 per year, you have already stepped out of the “average Aussie” bracket.
The median income in Australia is $48,360 before tax, according to a report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this month that analysed data from the 2016/2017 financial year.
In regional areas, that figure is far lower.
The most marked difference is in the Northern Territory, where Darwin city dwellers’ median income is $61,375, compared to $52,420 for the rest of the territory.
The highest median income is found in the Australian Capital Territory, at $63,038.
Tasmanian workers have the lowest median income, at $44,437.
Life on less than $500/week
Georgia* earns slightly less than the average worker in western Victoria, where the median wage is about $40,000.
She has $491 per week to cover rent, electricity bills, car repayments, insurance, registration, home contents insurance, petrol and groceries.
It is a reality that Georgia does not see portrayed in the media or considered by politicians.
“It’s easier to see it from the bottom than it is from the top,” she said.
“You’re always looking up, but the top doesn’t always look down.”
Retail sector phases out contracts
Georgia has worked for the same large retail store in Horsham for 18 years but is unable to secure any more than 25 hours per week.
“The whole retail environment has moved toward casualising the workforce and if you don’t already have a contract in place, you’re probably never going to get one,” she said.
“If I keep my hours, I’m happy; the casuals don’t have that guarantee.”
Before locking in her part-time contract, Georgia did one month of unpaid work experience and years of casual work at the same retail outlet.
“When you’re casual you can’t get a car loan perhaps … or they might not look at you for a rental [house],” she said.
“It’s harder in rural areas because you don’t have options.
“I think there are a lot more older people in the same job for a long time because that’s their security.”
Earning $50 too much for hearing aid help
Georgia was born deaf and requires regular specialist appointments.
She recently had to find $3,000 for new hearing aids, but earns $50 per week too much to qualify for a healthcare card, making her ineligible for government subsidies.
“If I dropped the five hours a week to be eligible, I’d never got those hours back again,” she said.
“I’m right in the middle — it could always be better, but it could be worse.”
She has no prospect of getting into the housing market.
“I can’t even think about it,” she said.
“I did at one point go to the bank and get a bit of an assessment done [and] the loan repayments would have worked out cheaper [than renting], but I can’t get the deposit.
“I’ve got to the point now where I’ve realised it’s not going to happen.”
Casual job to offset pension
At the age of 73, Sonia Matthews has just taken up a casual job at Mitre 10.
Forced to retire when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Ms Matthews used her superannuation to pay off her house in Horsham.
She is now dependent on the single pension, which is $466.70 per week.
“Out of that money I have to pay my [council] rates, my water rates, house insurance, car insurance, electricity and gas and car registration as well,” she said.
“This month I’ve had to pay about $1,300 and there’s still the electricity bill to come.”
Ms Matthews grows her own vegetables and freezes them for use throughout the year.
She gets to the supermarket early, for first pick of the half-priced meat.
“I have a good diet because of my vegies and fruit trees, but it’s very difficult,” she said.
“This year it’s been a lot more difficult to make that money go around because everything’s gone up; the last pension rise we got was about $7 a week.”
Any unexpected costs, like another health scare, could unravel Ms Matthews’ careful budgeting.
“I can’t ever afford to buy another car, so I have to look after my car,” she said.
“It’s no good lying in bed and worrying, so I just go with the flow.”
Health issues lead to debt
Connie* knows how easy it is for low income earners to slip into debt.
She and her husband were employed at the same Horsham supermarket when a difficult pregnancy prevented her from working.
The couple, who already had two children, had been carefully synchronising shifts to ensure one parent could be at home.
“We would juggle that, so we could both work and have children without being in day care,” she said.
“While childcare’s great, you’re sort of going to work to pay someone else.”
Then Connie had to stop work and make regular four-hour trips to Melbourne for specialist appointments — an “impossible” situation on a single supermarket income.
“We had no healthcare card and no cover, because we couldn’t afford private insurance,” she said.
“So you know, you’ve grabbed your credit card to survive and then all of a sudden you’re in debt and then you’re struggling; it’s that constant cycle that is hard to get out of.”
Surviving the silly season
Throughout December, the retail store Georgia works at is abuzz with families loading trolleys with toys and decorations.
It is a pervasive reminder of all the material things she cannot afford herself.
“It’s just crazy what people can — and do — spend on Christmas,” she said.
Georgia’s colleagues organised a work party but she, as she does every year, politely declined.
“You don’t want to say you can’t afford it, but they know you can’t,” she said.
“I don’t want to seem like I’m envious … it’s more that you don’t want to make them feel sorry for you.
“There are lots of things missing from my life but I don’t aim for a lot of things because there’s no point.”
Ms Matthews has created her own Christmas trap, in the form of beloved baked goods that her grandchildren now expect every year.
This year dried fruit seemed to be more expensive than usual, but it was a non-negotiable.
“Sometimes the credit card comes in handy, right at Christmas,” she said.
“I do like to see my family at Christmas — it’s worth it.”
* Names have been changed to maintain privacy.
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