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Age Discrimination Was Outlawed in 1967, Yet It’s Alive and Well Today, New Research Finds

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2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967. That landmark piece of legislation made employment discrimination against anyone 40 years old or older illegal. But subsequent court rulings combined with often deceptive employment policies have left a majority of older workers vulnerable to unfair labor practices.

Age Discrimination Suspected in Early Terminations

That’s the troubling finding from this article just published on the website of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). It describes the results of a comprehensive multi-decade study on age discrimination in the workplace conducted by the non-profit news gathering organization Pro Publica in cooperation with the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank. The conclusion is stark. “More than 50 years after Congress made it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers age 40 or older, a new data analysis by the Urban Institute and ProPublica shows that more than half of older U.S. workers are pushed out of longtime jobs before they choose to retire, suffering financial damage that is often irreversible.”

According to the article, the two research groups analyzed data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, referred to as “the premier source of quantitative information about aging in the United States.” This longitudinal study has followed a representative sample of about 20,000 Americans since 1992, from their 50th birthday through to the end of their lives. In analyzing some of the data, Pro Publica and the Urban Institute found that, during the years between 1992 and 2016, “56 percent of older workers are either laid off at least once, or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than [leaving] voluntarily.”

Age Discrimination Lurks in “Sneaky, Illegal Methods”

While some employers, seeking to cut costs, do offer senior employees enticements such as a sweetened retirement package to induce them to leave sooner than planned, many others are far less scrupulous. In the words of one researcher, “Some employers use more sneaky, likely illegal methods to try to encourage older workers to leave, such as job or task reassignment, being [unfairly] negative during performance reviews, [or] not providing workplace accommodations.” Their reasons, he infers, are simple. “The goal here is for older workers to quit, which would appear voluntary on the books. But the distinction between voluntary and involuntary job separations is pretty murky, since many ‘voluntary’ separations aren’t necessarily voluntary.”  Once these older workers involuntarily lose their jobs, the financial consequences are serious and lifelong. According to the study, 90 percent of older workers forced out early are never able to earn as much as they did before losing their employment.

Part of the problem stems from court decisions made since the original passage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in 1967. According to the SHRM article, “the act was weakened by a 2009 Supreme Court decision [which] imposed a much higher burden of proof on workers who allege age discrimination than on those who allege discrimination based on race, religion or gender.” As a result of the court setting the burden-of-proof bar higher, the number of age discrimination cases successfully argued has declined. Back between 1999 and 2001, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that about 10 percent of age discrimination complaints had reasonable cause while just over half did not. (Other cases were settled or dropped.)  In 2017, only about 2 percent of allegations of age discrimination were found to have reasonable cause while more than 70 percent were ruled as without merit.

Age Discrimination Often Subtle, Hard to Prove

Part of the challenge in proving age discrimination today, say researchers, is that evidence is almost always circumstantial. “Age discrimination can take subtle forms,” one AARP attorney told a U.S. Senate hearing in 2017. “Few hiring managers would dare say to a job applicant that he or she is ‘too old’ for a position.” Instead, says SHRM, companies may hide their intent by:

  • Using age-restrictive language in job postings such as requiring applicants to be a “digital native”
  • Recruiting for entry-level positions only on college campuses.
  • Requiring a college-affiliated e-mail address to apply to a job opening.
  • Using algorithms for online job applications that screen out older applicants.
  • Capping the number of years of work experience sought in applicants, such as stipulating that job candidates should have no more than 10 years of experience.

There are no easy answers to avoiding age discrimination. There are, however, some excellent resources such as this helpful Fact Sheet from AARP to show you how to hone your workplace skills to enhance your value as an employee and how to exercise your rights should you feel that you’re a victim of age bias. You’ll also find helpful information on the website of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But we at AgingOptions think one of the best things you can do, regardless of y0ur employment status, is to plan ahead for the kind of retirement life you hope for. This approach to retirement planning is about much more than finances. The type of comprehensive plan we recommend weaves together the essential elements of retirement: your money, your health, your housing, your legal protection, even your family. These critical dimensions of retirement living are all part of a LifePlan from AgingOptions, your blueprint to help you plan for and build the retirement of your dreams.

Preparation is the Antidote

Why not take the time to discover just how liberating this type of retirement planning can be?  If you’re ready to find out more, we invite you to join Rajiv at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. To see a calendar of these popular free events, visit our Live Events page and register for the location that works for you. It will be our pleasure to greet you and to share with you and your loved ones the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!

(originally reported at

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