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Reporting on older workers and age discrimination

July 11, 2018

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Older American workers are impacted negatively as businesses look to bring more millennial workers and a lack of resources helps prevent age discrimination. (Photo by Pixabay user cleberaraujo182)

The #MeToo movement uncovered the rampant sexual misconduct from high-profile men across many industries and professions. After the New York Times and the New Yorker reported the accounts of dozens of women accusing Harvey Weinstein, a prominent movie producer, of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse, a national conversation emerged to address the issue. Yet, other work-related issues go unnoticed.

Discrimination among older Americans in workplace and the economy is another topic that deserves reporters’ attention. As more companies expand their marketing toward millennial workers, Americans over the age of 55 are getting left behind. The baby boomer generation is the least financially prepared for retirement since Harry Truman was president, according to an analysis from the Wall Street Journal.

Taking care of this generation of Americans will prove to be challenging in the years to come as older workers wait to retire, causing headaches for companies that have to fund health insurance plans. Funding for the Social Security has also been threatened, leaving the children of these workers to take care of their aging parents.

A Lack of Resources

While there are laws in the U.S. that extend protections to older workers from discrimination, these same laws are sometimes rendered useless when victims decide to pursue a claim against an employer. In 1967, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA. The goal of this legislation was to extend protection to older Americans in the workplace as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only protected five classes that includes race, color, religion, sexual orientation and national origin from discrimination.

But nearly half a century after the law’s passage, court rulings left the law weak for victims filing age discrimination complaints against employers. In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that age discrimination cases have a higher standard than other forms of discrimination, meaning victims have to prove to employers intentionally discriminated on the basis of age.

In recent years, ADEA has been ineffective against the corporate pull that has successfully overturned the law’s goal: to prevent age discrimination. This leaves many older workers with few resources to turn to when such cases do happen. Corporation can feasibly hide their tactics of removing older workers from their workforce without being pinched by regulatory bodies as shown by ProPublica’s investigation of IBM laying off swaths of older workers and replacing them younger ones.

With such laws rendered ineffective, the responsibility has shifted to the federal watchdog agency for equal employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is looking into age discrimination cases in IBM and computer chip-maker Intel. It’s not just tech companies that are being put on the spot. Texas Roadhouse, the steakhouse restaurant chain, settled an age discrimination case in 2017- the biggest settlement filed by the EEOC.

Older need not apply

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that people older than 55 make up about 24 percent of all the U.S. labor force for 2018 — a share of the labor market that BLS expects to grow even more with an aging baby boomer population. With the rise of alternative employment such as contract work, which offers no employer benefits, older workers are seeing a stark future.

The growing number of older workers isn’t reflected in company recruitment. The world has revolved around marketing to millennials. And companies show no signs of stopping because hiring younger workers is cheaper than keeping older ones. Companies see big savings by bringing in more younger workers, which means businesses don’t have to foot the bill on expensive health insurance plans for older workers and they tend to pay younger workers less.

Another investigation by ProPublica found that recruitment ads by big corporations on Facebook (including Facebook itself) steered away from considering older Americans.

How we treat later age workers will depend on how companies go retain and retrain their older workforce to stay competitive in the digital revolution. As a reporter, find local companies that find creative ways to keep older workers. Also, look at your state government to find how lawmakers are trying to fund retirement accounts for these workers.

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