Fifty Years After ADEA, Age Discrimination Still Significant

A report by the EEOC Acting Chair says age discrimination can thwart employees’ plans to work longer and could affect retirement plan drawdown strategies.

A report by Victoria A. Lipnic, acting chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), notes that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was signed into law in December 1967 and took effect 50 years ago this month, in June 1968.

The report finds that age discrimination remains too common and too accepted as outdated assumptions about older workers and ability persist. Studies find that more than three-fourths of older workers surveyed report their age is an obstacle in getting a job. Even with a booming economy and low unemployment, older workers still report they have difficulties getting hired.

According to the report, today’s labor force has doubled in size, and is older, more diverse, more educated, and more female than it was 50 years ago. These trends are expected to continue for decades, due to the aging of the Baby Boomer population.

People are working longer today than their parents and grandparents did for a variety of reasons, the report notes. This generation of older workers is generally healthier and has longer life expectancy than previous generations. In addition, eligibility for full Social Security benefits starts at later ages and greater responsibility for retirement income has shifted to employees.

A Gallup survey found that while most employees plan to continue to work past their retirement age—74% to be exact—most have a desire to work, not because of a need to earn money. The EEOC report says age discrimination is one factor that can thwart their plans. “Unfounded assumptions about age and ability continue to drive age discrimination in the workplace,” Lipnic says.

According to the report, the age of those filing ADEA charges has changed dramatically. In 1990, workers in the 40 to 54 age cohort filed the majority of ADEA charges and workers in the age 65 and older cohort filed relatively few. But by 2017, more charges were filed by workers ages 55 to 64 than the younger age cohort. Moreover, by 2017, the percentage of charges filed by workers age 65 and older was double what it was in 1990.

“The loss of a job has serious long-term financial consequences as older workers often must draw down their retirement savings while unemployed, and are likely to suffer substantial losses in income if they become re-employed,” the report says.

In June last year, the EEOC held a hearing about age discrimination, and hearing witnesses made suggestions about how regulators and employers can reduce age discrimination and help people work longer.

In her letter, Lipnic says that with unemployment and growing shortages of skilled, qualified workers, hiring older workers can help employers fill what has become known as the “skills gap”—the lack of trained or experienced workers for higher-skilled jobs. Their employment also furthers economic and social policies that encourage continued work to strengthen personal financial well-being and the economy.

Recruitment practices can avoid age bias by seeking workers of all ages and not limiting qualifications based on age or years of experience. Over 94% of working Americans visit companies’ social media pages when searching for a job, the report notes. Websites and social media that include age-diverse photos, graphics, and content demonstrate a commitment to attracting a multi-generational workforce. Applications, whether online or paper, should not ask date of birth or other age-related questions, just as they should not ask an applicant to identify race or sex.

In addition, the report suggests that training recruiters and interviewers to avoid ageist assumptions and common perceptions about older workers is critical.