Persistent age discrimination and stereotypes about older workers continue to channel older workers out of the workforce, limiting further economic growth, experts told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at a public meeting titled “The ADEA @ 50 – More Relevant Than Ever,” held at agency headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“With so many more people working and living longer, we can’t afford to allow age discrimination to waste the knowledge, skills, and talent of older workers,” said Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic. “Outdated assumptions about age and work deprive people of economic opportunity and stifle job growth and productivity. My hope is that 50 years after the enactment of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), we can work together to fulfill the promise of this important civil rights law to ensure opportunities are based on ability, not age.”
Nearly two-thirds of workers age 55-64 report their age as a barrier to getting a job, as reported by a 2017 AARP survey. A comprehensive study in 2015 using resumes for workers at various ages found significant discrimination in hiring for female applicants and the oldest applicants, according to a co-author of the research, Patrick Button, Assistant Professor of Economics at Tulane University and a researcher with the National Bureau of Economic Research Disability Research Center (NBER).
Laurie McCann, a senior attorney for AARP Foundation Litigation, cited hiring discrimination and mandatory retirement as persistent problems that older workers face across industries. She called on the EEOC to strengthen ADEA protections and enforcement. “The ADEA should not be treated as a second-class civil rights statute. On this 50th Anniversary of the ADEA, AARP urges the EEOC to take bolder action to ensure older workers are treated fairly at work ….” McCann told the commission.
A combination of societal tradition and flawed business practices “that channel older people out of the work force, especially skilled workers, is damaging the economic health of our country,” John Challenger of the firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., told the commission, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. Challenger noted that if more older workers stayed in the workforce, it would significantly reduce the skilled worker shortage in the U.S.
Research refutes assumptions that older workers are less productive, technophobic or inflexible, explained Sara Czaja, director of the Center for Research and Education on Aging and Technology Enhancement (CREATE). Czaja discussed practical ways employers could do a better job of integrating older workers into the workforce by recognizing their value and by matching their skills and abilities with work environments.
“Unfortunately, numerous negative stereotypes about older workers still exist that often prevent or have a negative impact on employment opportunities for older people. These stereotypes can also prevent organizations from realizing the wealth of positive assets, such as wisdom, experience, and reliability that older workers can bring to the table,” said Czaja.
Experts anticipate that the older worker population will continue to grow, said Jacqueline James of The Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. James told the commission that “employers have been slow to innovate,” as it relates to addressing older workers’ preferences in recruitment and hiring, retention, and preventing age bias. The center worked with the AARP to develop a benchmarking tool to help employers manage the current multigenerational workforce.