White House Conf. has no time for ravages of recession, discrimination

The once-every-decade White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) sent out an email blast Saturday revealing the agenda for its signature event today.

Apparently there was no time in the jam-packed schedule to address the financial havoc wrought upon older Americans by the worst recession  in 100 years or the epidemic of age discrimination in hiring that relegates older workers to chronic unemployment, low-paid work, and a financially improvident “early retirement.” The conference will focus on care-giving, “planning for financial security at every age,” nutrition, “the power of inter-generational connections and healthy aging,” universal design, and technology and the future of aging.

Can it be the youthful organizers of the WHCOA are unaware that the Great Recession cost millions of Americans who are now approaching or entering their retirement years their jobs, homes and investments?

A recent AARP survey found that half of older workers who experienced unemployment in the last five years are still not working: 38 percent reported they were unemployed and 12 percent had dropped out of the labor force. To make matters worse, private sector employers in the past two decades eliminated traditional defined benefit pensions.  Recent generations financed their retirement with a combination of savings, a traditional defined benefit pension, and Social Security.  Two legs of that stool are gone for millions of American workers and Social Security is under attack from the right.

The Economic Security Institute reported in 2013 that nearly half (48 percent) of America’s 41 million seniors are “economically vulnerable,” including 63.3 percent of blacks and 70.1 percent of Hispanics. To be economically vulnerable is to have an income that is less than two times the supplemental poverty threshold (a poverty line more comprehensive than the traditional federal poverty line).

Incredibly, the WHCOA issued briefs on “retirement security” and “elder justice” that do not even mention the recession and age discrimination in employment.

The dismissive treatment of age discrimination in employment by the WHCOA is emblematic of the second-class treatment of older Americans generally by the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress.  The WHCOA held in prior years was funded by the Congress under the Older Americans Act Amendments of 1992. According to the WHCOA, Congress did not reauthorize the Older Americans Act nor provide funding for this year’s conference but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided to go ahead with the conference anyway. Continue reading “White House Conf. has no time for ravages of recession, discrimination”

Obama’s Policy on Aging – Be Positive!

The White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) issued its first “policy brief” Friday afternoon, addressing the issue of  “healthy aging.”

Get ready for news of a truly momentous policy announcement –  The Conference is urging a “shift in the way we think and talk about aging. Rather than focusing on the limitations of aging, older adults across the nation want to focus instead on the opportunities of aging.”  Oh, and older adults should get physical activity, good nutrition and good medical care.

No, this is not an April fools joke.  With all of the problems facing older Americans, the Obama administration essentially wants us all to think happy thoughts.

Meanwhile, the WHCOA  has completely ignored calls to address the problem of age discrimination in employment, which, among other things, condemns older workers to a retirement of poverty or near poverty.

According to a 2013 study by Economic Policy Institute,  nearly half (48.0 percent) of the elderly population is “economically vulnerable,” defined as having an income that is less than two times the supplemental poverty threshold. This equates to roughly 19.9 million economically vulnerable seniors. Women and minorities have far higher rates of economic vulnerability.

As I note in my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, older workers literally are second class citizens under the law. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Age discrimination is not treated with the seriousness of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin. In fact,  President Obama signed an executive order  in 2010 that allows the federal government to discriminate on the basis age in hiring. Obama’s reprehensible Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program legitimizes age discrimination and sends a message to employers that its okay.

Rather than tackle substantive issues,  the WHCOA appears to be intent upon focusing on soft issues that will not require engagement with Congress.  Who disagrees with the premise that society must shift the way it thinks and talks about aging?  Alternatively, who thinks we should continue to harbor outdated and false stereotypes about older people?  This is not the stuff of a real, concrete policy initiative.  This is the stuff of motivational calendars.

Just last week, the AARP, which is partnering with the WHCOA, reported that half of older workers who experienced unemployment in the last five years are not working: 38% reported they were unemployed and 12% had dropped out of the labor force. Forty-one percent of older workers who experienced long-term unemployment are working in part-time jobs.  Employers today drive older workers out of good jobs  through bogus restructurings and layoffs.  Once unemployed, older workers become mired in chronic unemployment and are forced to take part-time jobs and spend down their savings until they age into a financially ill-advised early retirement.

I  signed up for automatic email notifications from the WHCOA  and received notice of this  first WCOA  “policy brief” in an email on Friday afternoon. I checked Google news to see if anyone had written a news article about it but found nothing. Of course, if you really want press coverage, you don’t issue a press release on Friday afternoon. And if you want change you don’t ignore the elephant in the room.

Report: Most Women’s Careers Die at 45

While the U.S. continues to ignore the on-going epidemic of age discrimination here, a new report in the United Kingdom posits that ageism and sexism combine to effectively end women’s careers at the age of 45.

Men continue to progress until around age 55, when they are written off by employers  as being “past it.”

These are some of the results of a major report by economist Ros Altmann, who was appointed last year by the United Kingdom’s Department for Work and Pensions Minister to serve as the U.K.’s  Business Champion for Older Workers.

Altmann told the British Daily Mail and Independent newspapers that senior human resource professionals report that women’s career progression in most companies stops around the age of 45.  She said that nearly half the growth in female employment since the recession has been in low-paid, part-time work, mainly  clerical, caring and cleaning work.  Here are some other findings:

  • Older workers with young bosses tend to face the worst age discrimination.
  • Employers wrongly assume that older workers are less familiar with computer technology and are unable to learn.
  • Women face an extra layer of discrimination because employers want young, female staff who “look a certain way.”

Altmann recommends the government threaten  job recruitment firms with penalties unless they do more to prevent age discrimination. She said all job advertisements should clearly state the application is open to everyone regardless of age. She also recommends a national “confidence” campaign for discouraged older workers and proposed that companies offer “mature” apprentice programs.

The U.S. Slumbers on … 

The U.K. initiative stands in sharp contrast to the complete lack of action in the United States to combat blatant and epidemic age discrimination in the workplace.

Indeed, President Barack Obama made things incrementally worse  when he signed an executive order in 2010 establishing the Pathways “Recent Graduates” program that allows the federal government to discriminate in hiring against older workers. Why should private sector employers comply with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act if the federal government won’t?  And the Obama administration is currently sponsoring a White House Conference on Aging, which has totally ignored pleas to address the problem of age discrimination.

Meanwhile, many job applicants must fill out on-line applications which require disclosure of age-related information that allows companies to screen out older workers.

In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I show there is far less protection from age discrimination than other types of illegal discrimination in the United States because the ADEA was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Altmann  notes that by 2022, there will be 700,000 fewer people aged 16 to 49 in the UK  but 3.7 million more people aged between 50 and the state pension age. “If the over-50s continue to leave the workforce in line with previous patterns, we would suffer serious labour and skills shortages which could not be filled by immigration alone,” she said.

Obama Forgot to Fight Age Discrimination

“Obama will fight job discrimination for aging employees by strengthening the Age Discrimination in Employment Act … .”  Source: Blueprint for Change (2008)

I was surprised when I recently read that President Barack Obama pledged in 2008 to strengthen the nation’s primary law prohibiting age discrimination, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

Surprised because the ADEA is much weaker today than it was when Obama was running for President in 2008 . The ADEA was decimated by an adverse U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2009. Congress could have legislatively “fixed” the Court’s ruling but has failed to pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act for five years.  But I was most surprised because Obama himself is responsible for weakening the ADEA.

Obama signed an executive order in 2010 that allows federal agencies to discriminate against older workers by hiring “recent graduates” –  which is in direct contravention to the ADEA.  What message does it send to private employers when the U.S. government deems it appropriate to discriminate on the basis of age? Whether intended or not, Obama’s executive order serves as a green light for employers to engage in harmful, invidious age discrimination.

Meanwhile, Obama’s administration is in the process of planning a White House Conference on Aging this year . Organizers so far have completely ignored the unaddressed epidemic of age discrimination in the workplace that is catapulting older workers into chronic unemployment, low wage jobs and forced early “retirement.”

The Conference recently announced it is partnering with the AARP, the nation’s leading purveyor of supplemental Medicare health insurance, to co-sponsor five regional forums to hear from the public “on issues such as ensuring retirement security, promoting healthy aging, providing long-term services and support, and protecting older Americans from financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect.” Promote healthy aging?  Hmmm … Do you have supplemental Medicare health insurance?

Obama’s unfulfilled campaign promise points to yet another reason that the problem of age discrimination is so prevalent in America today. Older Americans have failed to effectively marshal their resources  to insure that their interests are not forgotten by politicians the day after the election.   In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama focused on young families and the middle class and failed to even mention issues of particular concern to older Americans,

In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I explore the reasons that age discrimination is treated like a lesser offense when compared with discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin.  I show that age discrimination is about perception, not reality.  It is about unfounded stereotypes and deep-seated animus. And it has a devastating impact on the health and welfare of older Americans.

 

 

Who Owns the Problem of Age Discrimination?

Part of the problem of age discrimination in the workplace is that nobody seems to claim ownership of it.

Folks who have already retired are very interested in the issue but it doesn’t affect them directly anymore, except to the extent that it contributes to health issues and poverty in retirement.

Younger workers don’t seem to comprehend that they are the ones who are most directly affected by age discrimination in the workplace. Of course, they are scrambling to survive and raise families in this precarious pro-business economy where workers generally have few rights.  In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I show that the problem of age discrimination is so prevalent in America today that it has become the new normal and is even affecting workers in their 30s. To some extent, lack of awareness is in the nature of youth.  As Aristotle said, “Youth is easily deceived, because it is quick to hope.”

The upcoming White House Conference on Aging has not shown any indication that it will address the epidemic of age discrimination in the workplace, a problem made incrementally worse in 2010 when President Barack Obama signed an executive order allowing federal agencies to discriminate against older workers and hire “recent graduates.”  The Conference issues page  identifies the following themes: healthy aging, long term services and supports, and elder justice (abuse and neglect).  Age discrimination  in employment is no-where mentioned.

My book  documents the inferior treatment accorded under the law to victims of age discrimination in employment. I show that the major federal law that prohibits age discrimination, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, was weak and riddled with loopholes when it was passed by Congress in 1967 and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Today, there are virtually no consequences for employers who engage in blatant age discrimination and many incentives to do so (e.g., cost-savings, youthful image).

Why have older workers have been second class citizens  under the law for fifty years? The AARP, which earned $1.34 billion last year selling insurance and travel products to older Americans, claims to be a champion of the rights of older Americans.  Is the AARP really so powerless that it cannot insure that older workers at least have the same protections and rights as other Americans?

The most recent major assault on the ADEA occurred in 2009 when the U.S. Supreme Court in Gross v. FBL Financial Services established a higher standard of proof in ADEA cases than exists under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin.  That year, a handful of progressive legislators proposed the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, which would legislatively “fix” the Gross decision. The POWADA has never made it out of committee.

Contact the White House Conference on Aging and urge conference director Nora Super to address the problem of age discrimination in the workplace. The conference email address is info@whaging.gov

AARP: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Well, I finally heard from the AARP.

Readers may recall that I attempted numerous times without success in September 2014  to contact the leadership of the for-profit AARP and its non-profit advocacy arm, the AARP Foundation, about my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace.   The book exposes the failure of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 to protect older workers during and since the Great Recession and documents the suffering of older workers who are forced by epidemic age discrimination into a penurious early retirement.

I got no response from the AARP.  Meanwhile, I wrote articles for the International Federation on Aging and the American Society on Aging (forthcoming) on the connection between age discrimination and problems in retirement.

I was baffled by the  complete silence from AARP leaders – not even a “thank you but get lost.” Like most Americans, I thought the AARP was the nation’s leading advocacy group for older Americans. I wrote an article for this blog on Oct. 6  about the fund-raising emphasis and inane issues listed on the AARP Foundation’s web site – “AARP Foundation invites NASCAR fans to ‘Ride with Jeff” and  “Couples say relationships benefit from volunteering together.”  A few days later, I wrote another article about how other countries advocate for equal rights for older workers.

On Nov. 4, out of the blue, I received an email from Lisa Ryerson, the head of the AARP Foundation, who invited me to contact her.  In a reply email, I asked if she would agree to set up an appointment to discuss the problem of age discrimination.  She forwarded my request to Stuart Cohen, the head of the AARP Foundation’s legal team, who in turn forwarded my request to two other AARP officials, who were nice enough to talk to me for an hour last month.

In our discussion, I outlined my proposed short-term and long-term strategy for addressing the problem of age discrimination, starting with a focus on the passage of the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) and listing age discrimination as an issue to be addressed at the upcoming  White House Conference on Aging.

The POWADA, which has languished in Congress for five long years, would reverse at least some of the damage inflicted on older workers by a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Gross v. FBL Financial Services.  That decision raised the level of proof in age discrimination cases far above that for race or sex discrimination cases.  Older workers  today are literally second class citizens in our nation’s court system, which is completely contrary to basic American concepts of fairness and equal justice under the law.

Meanwhile, age discrimination is so pervasive that it is trickling down to workers in their 30s and 40s who are by any other standard young.  Even the federal government has gotten into the act. President Barack Obama in 2010 signed an executive order establishing the Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program  which allows federal agencies to  bypass older workers and hire  young workers.  How can we expect private employers to obey the law when the federal government doesn’t?

In our discussion, I  equated the failure to pass the POWADA to the “Broken Window” theory, which holds that a broken window in a neighborhood is an invitation to thieves because it shows the neighborhood is overlooked and neglected. If older Americans can’t expect equal rights in the courts, how can they expect equal rights elsewhere?

One of the AARP officials sent me an email a few days later thanking me for my interest but stating that the AARP was already doing some of the things on my list. Whatever that means?

The AARP takes credit every year that Congress fails to cut Social Security. The AARP Foundation monitors Congress and the legal team files amicus or friend of the court briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases and represents a select few individual s in lawsuits involving age discriminaton. But that obviously is not enough.  If it were, the POWADA would be law.

The POWADA hasn’t even made it out of committee for five years.  The failure to pass the POWADA reflects astounding ignorance and inexcusable neglect. No one  has come forward to oppose the POWADA because that would be like opposing equal rights for older Americans. The immediate passage of the POWADA is the absolute minimum that older workers should expect.  Even that will not improve the situation significantly because the ADEA is still hopelessly flawed. Older workers  are denied the same level of protection that is provided under Title VII. I have advocated scrapping the ADEA and making age a protected class under Title VII.

Hoovers estimates the value of the AARP, Inc., which sells medical insurance and travel products to an estimated 37 million members, to be more than $1.34 billion.  Shouldn’t older Americans be getting more bang from their bucks. What’s wrong with this picture?