HR Homeroom: Workplace Age Discrimination Grows as Retirees Seek to Stem Rising Costs  

25 Jun, 2024 Chriss Swaney


Pittsburgh, PA ( -- The shadow of age bias in hiring is long. Tens of thousands of workers say that even with the right qualifications for a job, they are repeatedly turned away because they are over 50, or even 40, and considered too old.  

Robert Strauss, a professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, said workers over 50 – about 54 million – are now facing much more precarious financial circumstances, a legacy of the recession.  “They are trying to climb back into the workforce to pay for rising costs in food, housing and energy,’’ Strauss said.  

 In fact, more than half of workers over 50 who lose longtime jobs before they are ready to retire, according to a recent analysis by the Urban Institute and ProPublica. Of those, nine out of 10 never recover their previous earning power. Some are only able to find piecemeal or gig work. “If you lose your job, it is really hard to get a new one,’’ said Strauss.  

The problem is getting even more scrutiny after revelations that hundreds of employers shut out middle-aged and older Americans in their recruiting on Facebook, Linkedin and other platforms. Those disclosures are supercharging a wave of litigations.   

But as cases make their way to court, the legal road for proving age discrimination, has only roughened.    “Recent decisions by federal appeals courts in Chicago and Atlanta have limited the reach of anti-discrimination protections and made it even harder for job applicants to win,’’ said Michael Lieder of Mehri & Skalet.  “These cases are always very difficult,’’ said Lieder, who specializes in complex discrimination and wage and hour litigation. 

Roughly two-thirds of workers over age 50 believe workers face wage discrimination in the workplace, according to the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons).  Of that group, 90 percent see ageism as commonplace.  

Joanna Lahey, a Texas A&M professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Policy, said ageism is one of the last socially accepted prejudices. “People are living longer and want to stay in the workplace longer. But older workers have a tendency to steer clear of seeking out new training for their jobs,’’ said Lahey.  

“Evidence shows that employers prefer younger job applicants over older job applicants,’’ said Lahey.  And those findings come at a time when the American labor force is conspicuously aging. Data from the Pew Research Center in December showed 19 percent of adults age 65 and older are employed in the U.S., up from just 12 percent in 1990.  

Older workers are much more likely to wrestle with prolonged joblessness than younger one, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On average,  a  54-year-old job hunter will be unemployed for nearly a year. Repeated inquiries can go unanswered, like space probes lost in a faraway galaxy. In one of the most comprehensive studies, resumes were sent out on behalf of more than 40,000 ficticious applicants of different ages for thousand of low skill jobs like janitors, administrative assistances and retail sales clerks in 12 cities. In general, the older they were, the fewer the call backs. 

Paula Calabrese, a writer and Pittsburgh-based consultant, said she has a friend who just retired at 70 from nursing.  “But when she wanted to go back to work again after a few months into retirement, all she could find were low skill jobs in nursing. It was an insult to all her years of highly skilled work, according to Calabrese.” 

Research shows that age discrimination on the job is worse for women than men.  

“I think it is important for older workers to watch their demeanor and how they dress,’’ said Calabrese.  “Don’t wear old style clothing when coworkers are wearing slick new designs,’’ she added.  “And be ready to learn new skills and take on new challenges at work.’’ Calabrese noted.  

Strauss said that work for older adults means more than a paycheck. “It provides a sense of purpose, identity and fulfillment,’’ he said.  

And while young professionals may be open to different career paths, older workers typically have a more established idea of what they want to do. According to a 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistic survey, baby boomers  (those born between 1952 and 1964) had approximately  12 jobs from ages 18 to 52; however, nearly half of these jobs were held before age 25. This indicates that, as workers age, they’re more likely to remain with the same company.  

“Older workers have more knowledge of a company’s history and more developed social skills, ‘’ said Strauss.  

And despite rampant age bias in the workplace, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts older workers entering the work force will grow over the next decade. Adults aged 65 and older are projected to be 8.6 percent of the labor force  (those working and looking for work) in 2032, up 6.6 percent from 2022.  

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    About The Author

    • Chriss Swaney

      Chriss Swaney is a freelance reporter who has written for Antique Trader Magazine, Reuters, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, the Burlington Free Press, UPI, The Tribune-Review and the Daily Record.

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