One way to ensure that people suffer in their old age is to make it impossible for them to work in the years leading up to retirement.
That is what is happening in the United States. Millions of older workers have been forced out of their jobs since the Great Recession through layoffs and terminations and replaced with younger workers. Once unemployed, older workers face epidemic and unaddressed age discrimination in the labour force. They become mired in the ranks of the long-term unemployed.
Between March 2008 and March 2013, about 1.4 million more Americans opted for Social Security than were expected, according to an economist at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. A 2013 survey by the Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs found that 54 percent of retirees under the age of 65 felt they had no choice but to retire. Jobless older workers often are forced to spend down their savings until they age into a financially ill-advised “early retirement.”
Why is age discrimination so pervasive? After-all, it is all, illegal.
In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I deconstruct the major U.S. law prohibiting age discrimination, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. I show the law was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ADEA offers little to no real protection from age discrimination to workers who are aged 40 and above.
The U.S. Congress almost 50 years ago based the ADEA upon a flawed theory that age discrimination is different from other types of discrimination and is justified in some instances because of predictable age-related declines. The ADEA is riddled with loopholes and lacks the major penalties found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin. Medical advances and scientific research in the past half-century debunk the theory that underlies the ADEA.
The perfect storm for age discrimination occurred in the Great Recession. The EEOC received 21,296 age discrimination complaints in 2013; the Agency filed only seven lawsuits with age discrimination claims in 2013. Commentators often blame jobless older workers for lacking marketable skills, but ignore evidence of pervasive age discrimination in hiring, such as advertising to fill jobs with “recent graduates.”
So older workers suffer. A 2013 report by the Urban Institute found that 63 percent of long-term unemployed or underemployed workers in 2011 skipped dental visits, 56 percent put off health care, and 40 percent did not fill their prescriptions. And, of course, older workers struggle in retirements that are marked by hard choices and deprivation.
To improve the lives of older Americans, society must stop the epidemic of age discrimination in the workplace.
• • •
Written By Ms. Patricia Barnes
Attorney and Judge, Reno NY
*Ms. Barnes writes an employment blog: When the Abuser Goes to Work
November 6, 2014