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The Eldercare Advocate: Age Discrimination in the Workplace

February 20, 2020|advocacy, age discrimination, Ageism, Aging Parents, Depression, Dignity, elder justice, feelings, Fulfilling Life, intergenerational workforce, Life with Purpose, possibilities, Purposeful Living, Quality of Life, Respect, stress, usefulness, Well-Being, wellbeing, Wisdom, wisdom workplace, workforce


The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, was meant to provide protection to anyone over 40 years of age from being discriminated again on the basis of age in hiring, promotions, discharge, compensation of other term, conditions or privileges of employment. Until that time, there were no protections in the workplace against people as they increased in age. The history of the legislation harkens from creation and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and specifically Title VII, which made it illegal for employers to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. What was missing from these protections were those based on age. After a government sponsored study, it was determined that the reality of age discrimination for a large percentage of the American population was a growing concern. This led to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. in 1998 the Workforce Investment Act was passed which protected all applicants and employees from discrimination based on age as well as discrimination due to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, political affiliation or belief. 


However, the protections afforded to people who fall into this age group were whittled down by the Supreme Court in 2009 when the ruling made it more difficult for people to sue their employers for discrimination on the basis of age.


In today’s society, many employers are aware of the need for an inclusive and diverse work force. They may even take extra pains to ensure their hiring practices reflect modern trends in hiring and employment practices. However, one area which has lagged behind in awareness for diversity is intergenerational diversity. Many companies force older workers into early retirement, lower the age for them to receive disability or pension benefits, laying off older workers or intentionally promoting or hiring younger persons to oversee the work of the older employee or move them into a more obsolete position in an effort to force them out of the workplace. 


It may be true that younger workers are more versed in newer trends, philosophies or applications in particular areas. However, the wisdom and experience that the older worker brings to the workplace cannot be underestimated and should definitely not be undervalued in its importance.

The young person has much to learn from their older counterpart not only in the workforce, but in society and in life. This is consistent with our negative attitudes towards and treatment of elders in our society.


The federal government is as guilty of age discrimination as the private sector. It is the largest employer in the U.S., with roughly 4.2 million workers, which includes postal workers and persons in all branches of the military who wear the uniform. There are mandatory ages for many federal employees. (i.e., there is mandatory retirement for federally employed law enforcement officers at the age of 57 and air traffic controllers at 56) This is based on a previously held assumption entirely without merit or validity that physical and mental abilities decline at those ages. 


According to John Grobe, president of Federal Career Experts, a consulting firm that advises government agencies and their employees about retirement, the purpose behind these mandatory retirement ages to maintain “‘a young and vigorous workforce. ”  But as we all know, this is a gross misconception. I’m sure we all know someone who may appear older than their years at 40, while others are alert, active and vital well into their 80’s and 90’s. In 2015, a vibrant 102 year old German woman, denied the ability to continue her education as student in her 20’s because she was Jewish, received her PhD in Hamburg, Germany on the subject of diphtheria. While this case may be atypical, is certainly speaks to the possibilities. Yet our words often reflect our biases without even realizing it: we say someone is over the hill, slow as molasses in winter, not a spring chicken, etc.


Some hard facts about age and the workforce.


According to AARP, 61% of older workers of people 50+ years of age who remain in the workforce have noticed or have first-hand experience with age discrimination. Of those who reported experiencing bias based on their age, 95% view it as a common occurrence in the workplace. The article reports that those who are at least 45 years of age foresee the potential of losing their job within the next year and one third of them believe it will be due to their age. According to a joint study conducted by ProPublica and the Urban Institute, It is estimated that approximately 56% of older workers experience at least one involuntary job loss after age 50.

Age discrimination is so ingrained in our culture, and in each of us, that after reading an AARP article on this very subject, I realized that as an older person, I am guilty of participating in, or reinforcing, negative stereotypes about age.  I have joked about younger people being more savvy with technology, about my own adult children ridiculing me for not being up on the latest app or being able to problem solve technology issues and how younger people relying on texting or their inability or unwillingness to write a letter, a thanks you note or send a Hallmark.  


Conversely, most companies have missed out on the important reality that older workers possess a depth of knowledge and experience that is worth the investment, is not easily replaceable and can be tapped into in many different ways. In essence, they are the workforce wisdom keepers.


Paul Rupert, the founder and CEO of Respectful Exits, a nonprofit consulting firm that is raising corporate awareness about age discrimination says, “People walk out of companies now with an enormous amount of intellectual property in their heads. They know things that are essential to the company’s success, and if that knowledge is not captured and transmitted to the next generation, that company is losing a tremendous chunk of capital and it’ll eventually pay a price.” He goes on to say, “It’s a sad phrase, but companies view their workforce the same way they view their capital equipment. You buy it, you assume it has a certain shelf life, and then you get rid of it and replace it with a new model.”


According to a July, 2019  article in BuiltIn by Bailey Reiners the average age of retirement was 63 in 2001 and jumped to 66 by 2018. Most people expect to live at least 20 years after retiring, most have less than $250,000 in retirement savings. With those numbers, those who retire with that amount of money in savings person can expect to live off $12,500 each year for the last years of their lives. This is just above the poverty level for a single person under the age of 65. AARP cites that 29 percent of U.S. households headed by someone age 55 or older have NO retirement savings or pension, meaning they’ll have to continue working or rely on Social Security to survive. The future is bleak for those persons who are only able to access a job requiring little or no skill offering a minimum wage. Only about 1 in 10 of those workers who lose their jobs involuntarily ever earn as much per week afterward, the report found. Is this the best we can offer to our Elder Citizens who spent a lifetime contributing to our economy, our country, raising their families and essentially giving birth to the next generation?

It is well known that without a sense of purpose or feeling of usefulness an older person experiences a negative impact on their physical, emotional and psychological health and well-being. This is a basic human need. This is corroborated by a 2007 study in the Journals of Gerontology which found that without a sense of purpose, older persons are three times more likely to develop and disability and four times more likely to die prematurely. When a person is involuntarily and suddenly cast aside after being a contributing member of the workforce, they are essentially being told they are not worthy or have anything to contribute. One cannot deny the negative impact this represents to a person's well-being and sense of self. 

By the time people arrive at their late sixties, only 10% population is working That is in contrast to 20% of those age 55 years of age.  It is uncertain if they voluntarily retire, are forced into retirement of leave because of situations associated with age discrimination. What is significant about these statistics goes back to an earlier statement. This number represents the fact that people with the most knowledge and experience are no longer in the workforce. How can the pendulum change in the opposite direction? Certainly, by passage of age discrimination laws. In mid-January 2020, the House of Representative passed The Protecting Older Americans against Discrimination Act protecting workers from age discrimination with bipartisan support. It’s fate rests in the Senate which, despite bipartisan support, it is expected not to make it to the floor for a vote. Senators Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, and Bob Casey a Democrat from Pennsylvania, have sponsored legislation in the Senate which they are hoping will be advanced.

However, age discrimination is often a silent but accepted reality.

As the number of older people in the population increases, the number of older people in the labor force is similarly increasing. According to AARP, By the year 2024, there will be roughly 41 million Americans ages 55 and older working — up 8% increase from current figures.

About 35 percent of the U.S. population is now age 50 or older with those numbers expecting to rise precipitously. According to the US Census Bureau, by the year 2035 the over the 65 years of age population will outnumber those 18 and under. in 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which monitor’s the nation’s workforce It concluded in its report on age discrimination that even though 50 years had passed since Congress outlawed the practice, “age discrimination remains a significant and costly problem for workers, their families and our economy.”

The December 30, 2019 AARP article  “ Workplace Age Discrimination: Still Flourising in America”  quoted Frank Cania, president of Human Resources Compliance Experts. Cania believes that human resource departments in organizations view ageism as equal with other types of workplace discrimination. He claims that personnel in HR departments are not as aware of it as they should be and that age discrimination is inherent in the wording of job advertisements. (i.e., “fast-paced environment, energetic, technology ‘ninja’ or ‘We work hard and party harder.”) Laws are passed to provide sexual harassment or cultural sensitivity training, but nothing aimed at ageism or age discrimination.

Some of the worst offenders are in the technology arena which may not be surprising to many. In 2007, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that “young people are just smarter,” Silicon Valley is a youth work culture. So much so that in 2019, Google agreed to an $11 million settlement for the claims of more than 200 job applicants who said they were discriminated against because of their age. 

Older tech companies are also not immune to the problem. A 2018 ProPublica investigation reported on other tech companies who are more entrenched in American Culture. It is alleged that IBM within a five-year time period, intentionally manipulated the early retirement of an estimated 20,000 employees over age 40. “

An AARP survey found that only three percent of older employees have ever made a formal complaint of age discrimination to a government agency or someone in the workplace, which means there are probably hundreds of thousands more older person who merely accept job rejections, shrug it off when they are passed over for a promotion, turn the other cheek when experiencing workplace harassment or take an early retirement offer..

In the December 2019 article, AARP outlines some of the ways they are fighting age discrimination and assisting those older citizens who need help.

·  Attorneys at the The AARP Foundation are defending the rights of older adults against age discrimination all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

·  AARP has supported legislation in the US Congress and is spearheading laws in various states throughout the country which will make it more difficult for companies to discriminate against hiring older workers.

·  AARP works with companies to help them realize and understand the value the older worker presents in their workforce. They are doing this through the Employers Pledge Program and have been successful in securing public pledges from over 1,000 companies to work in the fight against age discrimination.If in need of a job, AARP has a job board where the companies that have committed to the Employer’s Pledge post jobs. 

·  With the Back to Work 50+ Program, AARP advises and assists persons over the age of 50 with appropriate training in order to compete in the competitive job-market. To find out more about this program AARP encourages you to visit: aarp.org/BackToWork50Plus or call 855-850-2525 to register for a workshop.

·  AARP works with TopResume to assist people with modifying their resume to make it more difficult for perspective employers to discount an applicant based on age. They offer a complimentary resume review and discounted pricing to AARP members for professional resume writing. 

Visit aarp.org/AgeDiscrimination for additional information and advice on age discrimination in the workplace.


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Copyright © 2020 Phyllis Ayman. All Rights Reserved