Why is the federal government engaging in systemic, blatant age discrimination in hiring?
President Barack H. Obama signed an Executive Order 13562 in 2010 that allows federal agencies to bypass older workers and hire “recent graduates.” The highly-questionable justification for the “Pathways Program” was that the federal government was at a competitive disadvantage in hiring promising young workers during the worst economic downturn in 100 years. Really? Moreover, Obama claimed he was acting in the pursuit of a “diverse workforce that includes students and recent graduates, who infuse the workplace with their enthusiasm, talents, and unique perspectives.” Does that mean older workers infuse the workplace with lack of enthusiasm, no talent and mediocrity?
The Pathways Program, which went into effect in the summer of 2013, violates the plain language of the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Under the ADEA, it is illegal for an employer – any employer – to use age as a consideration in the hiring process. The “recent graduates” program is open to applicants who have completed a qualifying post-high school educational program (e.g., technical or vocational school; two-or-four year college or university; graduate or professional school) within the preceding two years. The overwhelming majority of “recent graduates” are under the age of 30.
The Pathways Program clearly discriminates against older workers, including workers over the age of 40 who fall under the umbrellas of the ADEA. The ADEA states:
- Employers cannot fail or refuse to hire any individual “because of such individual’s age,” and/or
- Print and publish “any notice or advertisement relating to employment … indicating any preference, limitation, specification, or discrimination, based on age.”
There is no question that unemployment is a serious problem for younger workers but unemployment also is a serious problem for older workers. The latter are disproportionately represented in the ranks of long-term unemployed and often are forced into an ill-advised and penurious early retirement because they can’t find decent work due to age discrimination. Solving the unemployment problem for younger workers on the backs of older workers represents appalling public policy and is a disgraceful throwback to pre-ADEA days when employment ads regularly specified age cut-offs.
In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I argue that age discrimination has become normalized in society as a result of the failure of the ADEA and is trickling down to workers who were once considered young. It is entirely foreseeable under the Pathways “recent graduates” program that a 35-or -40 year-old with excellent qualifications could lose a job to a 25-year-old recent college graduate with no qualifications. Almost fifty years after the passage of the ADEA, America has come full circle.
The Pathways Program is a testament to hypocrisy and breeds disrespect for the law. If the federal government won’t follow the ADEA, why should private sector employers?
The late gerontologist Robert N. Butler, the founding director of the National Institute on Aging who coined the term “ageism,” wrote, “The tragedy of old age is not the fact that each of us must grow old and die but that the process of doing so has been made unnecessarily and at times excruciatingly painful, humiliating, debilitating and isolating through insensitivity, ignorance and poverty.”
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