Both of my parents are in their early 50’s and currently struggling to find jobs that pay as much as their pre-recession jobs. We moved to Minnesota 11 years ago because my parents heard that there were manufacturing jobs here that paid more than $13 per hour and included benefits… unheard of in Southern California, where we had been living. In 2004, for our family of family of five, this was living wage work.
As a social work intern at Daily Work, I have noticed that many of our clients are older and also struggling to find work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 33 million working adults, a record 22 percent of the current U.S. workforce, are ages 55 and over. By 2020, once the full cohort of baby boomers (born 1946-1964) joins the older adult population, that number is projected to be greater than 25 percent.
Employers are struggling to adjust to the changing times, however. In Forced Out, Older Workers Are Fighting Back, Carole Fleck, writing for AARP Bulletin, notes that in a survey of more than 1,502 older adults, a shockingly high 64 percent say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Of those, 92 percent say it is very or somewhat common.
Fleck also cites a 2013 survey that asks recently retired people why they left their jobs. The study discovered that many people weren’t really ready to go. “People who had retired voluntarily — it turned out it wasn't so voluntary. They felt they had been pushed out," said Cindy Levering, volunteer chair of the pension research team at the Society of Actuaries, who conducted the study.
In his article, The Truth about Older Workers, Nathanial Reade writing for AARP Magazine, notes that in a study of hiring managers conducted by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work, that there are many stereotypes making it harder for older workers to find and keep employment. Perceptions that older workers will be burned-out, unable to adapt to new technologies, absent due to poor health, unable to work with younger managers, and more, are all contributing to age discrimination in the workplace.
But the facts don’t support those perceptions, Reade shows. "Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age," says Peter Cappelli, a Wharton School of Business professor and coauthor of the book Managing the Older Worker. Capelli goes on to say that the discrimination older workers face today “really makes no sense” in light of these facts.
The truth is that age discrimination is not only wrong, it’s dumb. Companies that eliminate or refuse to hire older workers due to prejudice or ignorance are depriving themselves and their companies of the experience, wisdom, and work ethic older workers bring to the table. Ultimately, this behavior will work against them and things will change, but until then, the more we can do to draw attention to this injustice, the faster it will change. After all, we will all be older workers one day.
For more information on older workers in the workforce, check out the following articles:
This post was written by Virginia Sanchez-Ramirez, a social work intern with Daily Work and a junior at St. Thomas University. She wrote it as a reflection about what she is learning about herself and others by interning at Daily Work.