EEOC Commissioner Jenny Yang said there are many practices that employers may not often realize are creating barriers for an aging workforce, including mandatory retirement ages. She also noted practices requiring workers to act as digital natives and creating biased hiring forms.
“Age discrimination remains a real problem in our country,” Yang said. “The new economy is impacting older workers. It will remain vital to challenge stereotypes and identity for well-qualified older workers. … We need to take a close look at employment practices and whether what is in place serve as barriers because of those practices.”
In 2007, the EEOC took on law firm Sidley Austin for forcing employees into partnerships because of their age. The firm paid $27.5 million to 32 former partners in that case.
At the time, Ronald Cooper, the EEOC general counsel, said in a statement: “The demographic changes in America assure that we will see more opportunities for age discrimination to occur.”
The issue of age discrimination is more pressing as the workforce ages and people want to continue working longer, and companies need to innovate to address this movement, said Jacquelyn James of The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.
Nearly two-thirds of workers between 55 and 64 said age is a barrier to getting a job, according to a 2017 AARP survey. The commission also noted by 2060, workers 65 and older will make up 29 percent of the workforce, up 18 percent as of the latest data, and from 9 percent in the 1960s.
A 2015 study by panelist Patrick Button, assistant professor of economics at Tulane University and a researcher with the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Disability Research Center, found discrimination in hiring women and older applicants among employers.
John Challenger of the firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told the commission, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, that if more older workers stayed in the workforce, it would significantly reduce the skilled worker shortage in the United States.
Sara Czaja, director of the Center on Research and Education for Aging and Technology Enhancement said employers need to recognize the value of older workers.
“Unfortunately, numerous negative stereotypes about older workers still exist that often prevent or have a negative impact on employment opportunities for older people,” Czaja said.
Acting Commission chair Victoria Lipnic said the commission with added resources, will look at strategies and review regulations to address the issues discussed at Wednesday’s meeting. “We hope to build on the conversation today on outdated assumptions about age and work,” Lipnic said.
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