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Age Discrimination

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No matter how talented or experienced one employee may be over another, workplace history has demonstrated more than just a few times that the younger candidate is often the one to win the promotion. Age discrimination has become more than a minor inconvenience throughout the twentieth century; indeed, the issue has become such a hot potato within the workplace that laws have been forced into existence as a means by which to address the problem.

In order to help protect those who stand to be singled out and let go because of the unfairness of ageism, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was designed with the older employee in mind. The issue at hand is that companies are not willing to look beyond their aging workforce, choosing instead to push them out of the technological loop rather than attempting to incorporate them as valuable assets. In our culture, the general perception is that with youth comes energy, imagination, and innovation. With age comes decreasing interest, lack of innovation and imagination, and a lessening of the quality of the person (Bennett, 2001, p. 410-411).

Job seekers are reporting age discrimination beginning as early as the mid-thirties. How can this be addressed? What options are there for those of us considered \"old\" by hiring managers and companies? The biggest issue, and one which is hard to address, is the perception that older workers are not as capable or as qualified as younger counterparts.

Age discrimination continues to damage our society, reducing both the incomes and the self-confidence of millions of Americans. A Harris survey, conducted in 1989, reported that one million workers aged 50 to 64 believed that they would be forced to retire before they were ready. Most of this group, anticipating an unwanted early retirement, said they would prefer to work for years longer. Another Harris survey, conducted in 1992, found that 5.4 million older Americans--one in seven of those 55 and older who were not working at that time--were willing to work but could not find a suitable job (Administration on Aging).

Age discrimination can be obvious, such as a bank hiring a pretty, inexperienced young woman as a teller instead of an older woman with a strong background in similar jobs. But it\'s the subtler forms of age discrimination that may have the most powerful effect on cutting short the productive years of Americans--the law partner who is moved to a smaller office when he passes 60, the 50-year-old professional who knows hard work won\'t bring any more promotions, the vacancy filled by a younger staff member before older workers even know about it, and the new boss who makes life so miserable for the 60-year-old secretary, he inherits, that she quits.

Age discrimination is sometimes allowed to continue with surprisingly little protest because of long-held assumptions that it is right and proper for older workers to move aside to make room for younger workers who need to support families, that older workers are less competent, and that there's no mileage in training them for new jobs.

In fact, for a variety of reasons, older workers have been leaving the labor force. The percentage of men 55 to 64 in the work force declined from 87 percent in 1950 to 67 percent in 1996, and for men 65 and older, from 46 percent to 16 percent. The percentage of women 55 and older in the work force hasn't changed substantially because the dramatic rise in the number of women working has offset the increase in early retirements (Age Discrimination).

When age 62 arrives or earlier retirement is offered, what prompts the employee to leave--a negative work climate that sees older employees as less valuable, the desire to be free, or a belief that Social Security or a pension, plus some savings will provide a livable income? The answer is probably a combination of the three, but some employment experts think ageism plays a larger role than most people are willing to admit.

The 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects most workers 40 and older from discrimination in recruitment, hiring, training, promotion, pay, benefits, firing, layoffs, retirement and other employment practices. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for receiving charges of age discrimination under the ADEA, investigating them, and working to remedy the causes (Employment Law).

Financial need and career interests send many early retirees back to work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), half of men aged 55 to 61 and one-quarter aged 62 to 64, who had pension income in 1993, found new jobs--in most cases, part-time employment. Many older Americans, however, can\'t find a job or are too discouraged to try. About 667,000 people 55 and older were unemployed in 1993 and about half had been out of work for 15 weeks or more (Employment Law).

In the last decade, downsizing, increased use of part-time and contract employees, greater reliance on automation, and less job security have created what some researchers call a \"corporate culture of expendability.\" In such a climate, it is the older worker who is at particular risk of losing a job. Stressful conditions in the workplace are projected to continue during a time when the number of workers 55 and older will jump from 16 million in 1996 to 22 million in 2005, and rise even higher with the aging of the baby boomers (Doyle).

Yet, a 1992 Harris survey of 400 companies found that only one in eight companies surveyed sees an urgent need to respond to the aging of the work force. Just one in three offers older workers the chance to transfer to jobs with less responsibility and only one in five offers phased retirement (Doyle).

Another 1994 survey, also of 400 companies, interviewed \"Human Resources Decision Makers\" and summarized the results in an American Association of Retired Persons' (AARP) report, American Business and Older Workers: A Road Map to the 21st Century. According to the report, the personnel directors and company executives interviewed, rate older workers very highly, but believe younger managers \"do not really want older employees no matter how good their skills, so what\'s the point of sending them an older worker to interview" (Employment Law)?

The report said many of the \"Decision Makers\" believe younger managers see older workers as: \"My mom and dad and do not want to boss them; knowing more than boomers do and making them look bad, less competent; hard to relate to, not part of 'my generation,' 'my culture,' and 'inflexible, unwilling to change' (Doyle).

From 1991 to 1995, an average of 17,000 workers annually brought age discrimination complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).



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