Experts say that age discrimination is severely compounding the jobs crisis for older workers in the recession, although the phenomenon is difficult to quantify or to prove.
Last week, thousands of Americans who have exhausted their unemployment insurance — the 99ers, named after the maximum number of weeks of state and federal benefits — sent letters and petitions to Washington as part of a futile campaign to convince the Senate to pass a bolstered version of the jobs bill, now stalled and being pared back. There were many common themes in their stories, but one of the more surprising was age.
[Economy1] One woman from Warren County, New Jersey, wrote: “I am (or was) a legal secretary with several years of experience (30+ years). … I have applied to jobs that are more than one-half less than what I was earning. I search for a job each and every day. … Where do people in my age bracket go? Too young not to work but too old to work?”
Such stories of older workers too young for retirement but struggling for months if not years to find jobs have policy experts concerned as the recession drags on and long-term unemployment continues to rise. Experts say that age discrimination is severely compounding the jobs crisis for older workers, although the phenomenon is difficult to quantify or to prove, and remains under-examined by the government. This time, it is not just making it more likely that these workers will be laid off. It is also making it much harder for them to gain new positions.
Last week, a hearing called by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights examined the issue, attempting to determine whether part of the reason older workers have such trouble finding work, on aggregate, is due to employer biases out of their control. The unemployment rate is a comparatively moderate 7.1 percent for workers over the age of 55 — it’s 9.7 percent nationally — as older workers are more likely to retire early or leave the workforce if they lose their jobs. But that hides the troubling reality for those who can’t afford to leave the labor force.
The unemployment rate for over-55s is at the highest level since 1948. Since the recession started, both the number of older people seeking work and the rate of unemployment for over-55s have increased more sharply than for all other demographic groups. And older workers comprise a high share of the long-term unemployed. In May, the average duration of unemployment for older job-seekers climbed to 44.2 weeks, 11 more weeks than the national average. Nearly six in ten older job-seekers have been out of work for more than six months.
There are structural reasons that the unemployment crisis is hitting older Americans so hard. Older workers are more likely to be underwater homeowners, unable to sell their house and move away. They often have highly specific marketable skills, and seek positions more selectively. They also often have skills rendered obsolete by the recession, in outdated trades. But too often, employers illegally presume that older workers will be harder to train, more likely to leave for other positions, less productive, less technologically able or less willing to move — and do not hire them for those reasons.
Laurie McCann, a senior attorney at the AARP Foundation Litigation and expert on age discrimination, explains that the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act requires employers to assess candidates as individuals and not to make assumptions about their abilities or requirements due to their age. “Employers have legitimate concerns about older applicants,” she says. “But the problem is, we find that people aren’t even getting in the door to have an interview or have their resume looked at, because employers assume that older workers aren’t looking for a job at a lower salary or aren’t willing to relocate.”
Dianna Johnston, assistant legal counsel to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, explains that the statistics fail to capture this side of the picture. Speaking before the Commission on Civil Rights, she said, “Most labor-force statistics don’t really tell us much about the labor force. But one does. … Older workers remain unemployed one to three months longer than [younger workers]. And that is partly attributable to discrimination.”
McCann called age discrimination in hiring “the most under-reported form of discrimination” and “prevalent” throughout the recession, as an average of 5 workers compete for every job opening. In an interview, she explained why age discrimination is so hard to quantify: “[It is] the lack of proof. If you’re laid off, you might be in outplacement, and see that everyone who got laid off was older. Or, you might have friends in your office to tell you that a younger person took your job when your employer told you the position was being eliminated. But hiring discrimination is much harder to see, and can be impossible to prove. In most cases, you’re not going to know who was hired. You’re not going to know how they filled the position. There’s just a hunch, or a feeling, that you’re not getting through the door because of your age.”
Incidences of age discrimination in firing are much clearer to see, and have risen along with the recession. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says age discrimination cases have jumped 17 percent since the start of the recession, and climbed 30 percent between 2007 and 2008. But virtually all of those cases involve layoffs, rather than the lack of job offers.
Still, evidence of age bias in hiring is accumulating in academic research and anecdotal reports to the EEOC, Commission on Civil Rights and AARP. In one famed 2005 study, a Texas A&M economist sent out 4,000 job applications for entry-level positions. (The resumes were only women’s.) Older workers were 40 percent less likely to receive a response back. And of the letters sent to Congress last week, a vast majority mentioned age, many coming from older workers who had applied for hundreds of positions, to no avail.
“Who will help the over 50 population find work? I have been out of work, laid off from the military/defense industry and apply to anything and everything I am qualified for, but with no luck,” one wrote. “ I am told I am too qualified and when I respond with, ‘I am willing to take this position, take less money, I will give you my experience at that salary,’ I am still turned away.”
Unfortunately, policy experts fear that age discrimination in hiring, compounded by the recession, is a problem without a solution. Individuals can bring cases against individual companies, but discrimination is virtually impossible to prove, even if it is easy to see as an aggregate phenomenon. Plus, McCann says, explains, the phenomenon is so prevalent that discrimination simply seems like reality. “As a society, we’re willing to tolerate age discrimination, more so than other kinds of discrimination,” she argues. “People sense that, and it gives older job-seekers a sense of futility. Why even bother applying for jobs, or bringing a discrimination case? I won’t win.”
Rep. Paul Ryan to deliver SOTU response
Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union Tuesday, according to Mike Allen
Rep. Paulsen allies with medical device industry to relax FDA oversight
Source: Flickr; Republicanconference (www.flickr.com/photos/republicanconference) On the heels of the Minnesota Independent story last week about U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen’s cozy financial relationship with the medical device industry, the New York Times reported Tuesday that some health professionals are alarmed by Paulsen’s push to relax Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight
Rep. Paulsen touts balanced budget constitutional amendment
In a post for the conservative blog True North , U.S. Rep
Rep. Patrick McHenry: Please, Conservatives, Fill Out Your Census Forms!
The conservative congressman from North Carolina, a constant critic of the census -- one of the people who sounded the alarm about politicization when the
Rep. Paulsen, Karl Rove the latest to get ‘glittered’
Rep. Erik Paulsen and former Bush staffer Karl Rove were both showered with glitter at the Midwest Leadership Conference Friday
Rep. Perlmutter to hold constituent meet-up in grocery store
Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter will hold a Government in the Grocery constituent meet-up this evening from 5-7 at the Safeway at 38th and Wadsworth in Wheat Ridge. The address is 3900 Wadsworth. The meeting, where Perlmutter typically sits at a folding table and talks to whomever shows up, is free and open to the public
Rep. Perlmutter criticizes House measure that would eliminate 800K federal jobs
Congressman Ed Perlmutter today issued a scathing statement criticizing the House of Representatives for passing a spending bill that could put nearly a million federal employees out of work. The Colorado delegation voted strictly on party lines, with all four Republicans voting in favor of the bill and the three Democrats voting in opposition. Perlmutter’s statement: “My number one priority is to get people back to work because that’s the best thing we can do to pay our debt and move forward toward economic stability
Rep. Pete Stark Won’t Dignify Constituent by, er, Micturating Upon His Leg
In the tradition of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), California Democratic Rep. Pete Stark revealed at a recent town hall gathering that there are limits to what
Rep. Peace, ACLU seek investigation of soldier’s allegations of racial discrimination in Afghanistan
Both Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) and the American Civil Liberties Union agree: There needs to be an investigation into Spc.
School of Hock
A growing number of college grads are defaulting on their student loans as the economy worsens.