Ageism. Say the word out loud. When I do, it forms awkwardly in my throat, clinging to the back of my palate. Then, it pushes out with a distinct hissing, like a viperous snake.
Go ahead, try saying it. Age discrimination is insidious. And it’s creeping like kudzu into the workplace. It’s no longer the “unspoken” feeling that’s lurking behind why you’re not getting hired or why you’ve been “laid-off” in a corporate restructuring. It’s pretty obvious.
But we are apparently. Since 2008, the number of colleagues I know who have stressed for three years or more grasping to find a full-time job is cold hard reality. Many haven’t found one at all and are self-employed in contract and part-time jobs.
Consider this: The average length of unemployment between jobs for older workers is at an all-time high — well over a year. On average, it takes someone age 55 or over three months longer to find a job than a younger person.
Age discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission now account for a nearly a quarter of all complaints. In 2011, the EEOC received 23,465 age-related charges, up from 16,548 in 2006.
AARP’s findings. A new survey by AARP released today is further evidence of the serious toll older workers face from employer ageism. In May, the telephone poll of 1000 registered voters 50 and older found that over one-third reported that they or someone they know has experienced age discrimination in the last four years. Sixty-four percent of respondents think that people over age 50 face age discrimination in the workplace.
The impetus for this survey: To find out of older Americans support bipartisan legislation to combat age discrimination in the workplace–a piece of legislation that is near and dear to the hearts of AARP’s members to be sure. I first reported on this legislative effort back in March via my column “Want to Live Comfortably in Retirement? Your Job Hunt Starts Now.”
The AARP poll, conducted by GS Strategy Group of Boise, ID, found that roughly 8 in 10 favor passage of the bipartisan “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act” (POWADA).
The legislation, sponsored by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Democratic Senators Tom Harkin and Patrick Leahy is designed to overturn a divided (5-4) U.S. 2009 Supreme Court decision (Gross v. FBL Financial Services) that made it much more difficult for older workers to prove claims of illegal bias based on age.
Unlike the rules that apply to workers who have been discriminated against due to race, sex, nationality, and religion, older workers must now prove that age was the decisive factor, making it far more difficult to prove their case.
For decades, if an older worker showed that age was one motivating factor in an adverse employment decision, even if other motives also played a role, the employer had to prove that it would have made the same decision without considering the employee’s age.
Since the Gross decision, employees instead must prove that the employer would not have taken the adverse action “but for” their age — in other words, that age played the determining role — a significantly higher standard of proof.
The aim of the legislation is to restore the previous legal rules and protections that existed before the 2009 decision.
Workers figure what’s the point? My guess is that a lot of jobseekers 50+, who have lost a job, figure it’s futile to fight discrimination. Plus, they would rather focus resources and energy to finding a new job. The hope is this legislation will make employers’ more accountable and the playing field fair to older workers.
“It is hard to really provide facts that you didn’t get a job because of your age,” Laurie McCann, AARP Foundation senior litigation attorney, says. “Being aware of your rights is your best protection.” For her tips on job seeking, go to my earlier column “There’s a Lawsuit Here: Five Tips For Older Jobseekers”.
The fact is many of us don’t have a traditional pension, haven’t saved enough for retirement (yet) and have been shut out of the workforce as the recession seeped across corporate American in recent years.
As I have been reporting, along with many others in this field, older Americans are putting off retirement either to make ends meet or to save money for retirement. Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what the new AARP survey found, too.
- Only 29 percent of non‐retirees surveyed say they have or are close to having enough to retire comfortably.
- Twenty‐nine percent also say they will have to work for a number of years more to retire comfortably, with 36 percent unsure when they will be able to retire.
- Among retirees, 16 percent say that they may need to return to work.
Why you should care. Age discrimination is in my view a major reason why it takes so much longer for older jobseekers to land a new job. And even when you have a job, you probably feel vulnerable. Your chances of promotions may be increasingly limited and there’s a nagging feeling that when the music screeches to a stop, there will be no chair for you.
I’ve been paying pretty close attention to this stomach-churning phenomenon and been writing about it for Forbes and as AARP’s Jobs Expert. In fact, I have dedicated a chapter to the topic with tips and strategies on how to deal with it in my upcoming book: AARP Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills (John Wiley & Sons), which will be out in September. Stay tuned.
On a personal level, my spouse, Cliff Hackel, recently joined this choice group. At the age of 58, he is peering out at the landscape after his employer CNN’s “restructuring” and wondering what the odds are of ever being hired for a full-time in-house gig with benefits at his age?
I have to swallow and tell him bluntly, based on my research in this area, they aren’t good. I have faith in him, though, because he was a freelancer for 25 years and as an award-winning documentary producer/editor, he is at the top echelon of his field, so he will find his opportunity.
Many older workers aren’t as fortunate to have an in-demand skill and expertise. That makes job hunting extra tough, but not impossible. There really are great jobs out there. Trust me. You have to know where to look and how to prepare and market yourself to land one.
Click for full photo gallery: 10 Things To Do When You Lose Your Job
I’m the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job, available here www.kerryhannon.com. I am a MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow. To learn about great jobs for retirees, check out my column at AARP. My weekly column at PBS’s NextAvenue.org is here. Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon
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