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


  1. A huge hypocrisy exists within the hiring practices of the federal government concerning age discrimination.
    I am a Certified Interpretive Guide and have applied for various positions within the Park Service. The application does not ask for a birth date because that would be illegal. Instead they ask for the year you graduated from high school. Please, that insults my intelligence & makes me very angry. I’m passed over by less qualified younger applicants in some cases, not all cases. I would agree to work under private contract so the fed wouldn’t be expected to provide health insurance.
    I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to vent this unfair & illegal practice to someone. Maybe if I’m very lucky I’ll live long enough to see some actual fairness in the fed hiring practices.

    • I think it is nothing short of a national disgrace that our own federal government discriminates on the basis of age in employment. I’ve written about President Obama’s discriminatory Pathways “Recent Graduate” hiring program that allows federal agencies to discriminate against older applicants. The reason I called my new book Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace is because the failure to address age discrimination reflects a betrayal of older Americans and the basic principles of equal justice upon which the country was founded. I can only hope that workers who are experiencing the problem (that’s people aged 40 and above) will see it for what it is and fight as best theycan. Pat


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