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Age Discrimination—It’s Getting Old

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia 
June 8, 2019


If you were born between 1946 and 1964, I am addressing you now, Baby Boomer. I suspect that many of you want to continue being productive and working at meaningful roles well past the age of sixty-five. The American workforce is aging, with 35 percent of the workforce projected to be over 50 years old by 2022. Many of us would like a suitable, challenging, and fulfilling job. After all, we Baby Boomers are very reliable, smart, conscientious, agile, and trustworthy. We are open to change management and thinking outside the box because that’s what made us successful in our earlier years. Smart, forward-thinking recruiters and employers should be calling us nonstop to take on positions that require expertise, experience and maybe most of all—wisdom.

How did the age of 65 become the de facto retirement age? Some credit (or blame) Germany just a bit for this. In fact, even though the German social insurance system had already chosen 65 as its retirement age when our own Social Security system was being created in the mid-1930s, it was not the impetus to do likewise. The Committee on Economic Security (CES) considered a couple of factors when they selected 65 as the age. First, several pension plans at the time had been using 65 as their retirement age. About half of the states’ pension plans had been using 65. The rest were using 70. The CES members talked it over and decided that 65, rather than 70, should be the official retirement age. It also helped that from an actuarial point of view the numbers worked out better at age 65 as well.

As a Baby Boomer, I have learned a great deal concerning the nature of the human condition. One part of our nature can be referred to as generational wisdom. As we grow older as Americans, we have both the desire and obligation to pass along to successive generations the wisdom we possess.  This is a sacred charge and one that we accept gladly and without reservation. The Baby Boomer generation always does whatever it takes to make things work. We are not quitters and we disdain those who give up in the face of the first difficulty. Baby Boomers are the offspring of what we still call the greatest generation and we took up that generation’s mantle with pride and perseverance. We will not fail them, and we will not fail our nation. Nor will we become a silent generation, like those that preceded the greatest generation. We are fiercely independent. We are joiners and band together for action. We are joiners because we realize that strength and influence lie in numbers. We are helpers and will jump at the chance to help a struggling neighbor or someone who is going through an unfortunate circumstance. We are survivors.

With respect to job hunting, though, wisdom is not always valued as much as it should be. Recruiters and employers use carefully chosen terms to let you down or turn you away, such as, “Overqualified,” “Over-educated,” or “The successful candidate will be someone who can grow with the company.” I’ve heard all of these and more. It’s often said that if you wind up unemployed for any reason at around 65, your next job will not come, “Over the transom.” Rather, it will only come to be by virtue of who you know that will help you to become re-employed. There’s also the question of salary. Studies indicate that those who manage to keep working past 65 are in jobs that pay 50 percent or less of the highest salaries these workers achieved throughout their careers. If, for example, they have been forced out on early retirements, they seek positions in other companies, the education sector or nonprofits which typically pay less.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits, “Discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.” This has apparently become untrue; a recent 7th United States Circuit Court of Public Appeals ruled that the ADEA only protects current employees, not external applicants. Therein lies the rub—nothing protects us from age-related discrimination in the hiring process. We need to change that law to protect us in the hiring process.                                   

Summary

There is precious little that protects Baby Boomers from age discrimination – despite the EEOC and the ADEA. Therefore, I intend to highlight this problem however and whenever I can, starting with this article. I solicit your input going forward. You can leave a comment with your thoughts or contact me by email. I’d like to discover more about the amplitude of this social challenge. We owe it to ourselves and to the nation we serve and love. Let’s see if we can raise the collective voice of 77 million Baby Boomer Americans. Let’s make ourselves heard and reckoned with. We are a powerful, strong group of people.


Author: Dr. Robert Brescia serves as Chairman of the Board at Basin PBS television and at the Permian Basin American Red Cross. His latest book is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Please contact him at [email protected] or Twitter: @Robert_Brescia.

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One Response to Age Discrimination—It’s Getting Old

  1. Patrick B. Sullivan, DPA Reply

    June 10, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    I completely support your initiative. Even though I have chosen to keep working in my career at 68, I get the distinct impression that further advancement is out of the question. I also witness other forms of ageism all around me. It can be very discouraging.

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