Some older work­ers strug­gle with age dis­crim­i­na­tion

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Business - By Lau­ren Rosen­blatt

The fed­eral Age Dis­crim­i­na­tion in Em­ploy­ment Act turns 50 this year — about the age when many Amer­i­can work­ers be­gin to en­counter the kinds of bi­ases the law was in­tended to pre­vent.

At this “mile­stone of mid­dle age,” quipped Vic­to­ria Lip­nic, act­ing chair of the U.S. Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion, the law is grap­pling with new forms of age dis­crim­i­na­tion in the in­ter­net era.

Re­search by the EEOC, which re­ceived 20,857 claims of age dis­crim­i­na­tion last year, found that 65 per­cent of older work­ers say age is a bar­rier to get­ting a job.

The is­sue has taken on even greater im­por­tance as Amer­i­can work­ers de­lay re­tire­ment and stay in the work­place longer, push­ing up the me­dian age in the U.S. la­bor force.

Here’s a look at some of the trends in age dis­crim­i­na­tion:

‘Dig­i­tal na­tives’ vs. ‘dig­i­tal im­mi­grants’

In job ads, some em­ploy­ers have be­gun list­ing “dig­i­tal na­tive” as a re­quire­ment for the po­si­tion. The term, many say, is a “code word” for young work­ers who have grown up with tech­nol­ogy and will be able to use new sys­tems with ease.

This term plays into stereo­types that “dig­i­tal im­mi­grants” — usu­ally older work­ers who came of age be­fore the in­ter­net — will be slow to adapt to tech­nol­ogy, re­luc­tant to learn and costly to train.

Older work­ers are some­times la­beled as “techno­pho­bic,” said Sara Czaja, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Re­search and Ed­u­ca­tion on Ag­ing and Tech­nol­ogy En­hance­ment.

But con­trary to stereo­types, re­search does not show a cor­re­la­tion be­tween age and work per­for­mance. If tasks are based on speed and ac­cu­racy, Czaja con­ceded that age may play a fac­tor in an em­ployee’s pro­duc­tiv­ity.

A 2010 study of adults ages 65 to 85 found that the ma­jor­ity of par­tic­i­pants had a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to­ward us­ing tech­nol­ogy.

Of course, it is dif­fi­cult to tell if com­pa­nies are us­ing the term “dig­i­tal na­tive” as a subtle form of dis­crim­i­na­tion or if they sim­ply re­quire an ap­pli­cant pro­fi­cient in cer­tain tech­nol­ogy skills.

Jacquelyn James, co-di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter on Ag­ing and Work at Bos­ton Col­lege, said most of the time peo­ple aren’t con­scious of their bi­ases or stereo­types.

“The ac­knowl­edg­ment that they are im­plicit, that we don’t see them, we don’t rec­og­nize them is the most im­por­tant hedge against their neg­a­tive ef­fects,” she said.

For some­thing like a job de­scrip­tion, James sug­gested putting to­gether a team of peo­ple of dif­fer­ent ages to en­sure phrases such as “dig­i­tal na­tive” aren’t giv­ing off the wrong idea.

Women ex­pe­ri­ence age dis­crim­i­na­tion be­fore men

Although peo­ple of both gen­ders strug­gle with age dis­crim­i­na­tion, re­search has shown women be­gin to ex­pe­ri­ence age dis­crim­i­na­tion in hir­ing prac­tices be­fore they reach 50, whereas men don’t ex­pe­ri­ence it un­til sev­eral years later.

In a 2015 study ex­am­in­ing the ef­fect of a date of birth listed on a re­sume, re­searchers found all ap­pli­cants over age 64 were less likely than younger ap­pli­cants to re­ceive a re­quest for an in­ter­view or an in­quiry. How­ever, mid­dle-aged women, ages 49 to 51, had a sig­nif­i­cantly lower call­back rate than younger women, ages 29 to 31, while mid­dle-aged men did not fol­low the same pat­tern.

The study also found dis­crim­i­na­tion to­ward older men was prom­i­nent in only se­lect fields, but older women felt dis­crim­i­na­tion across the board.

And le­gal pro­tec­tions against age dis­crim­i­na­tion tend to skew more to­ward men. “Ev­i­dence sug­gests laws help older men more than older women,” said Pa­trick But­ton, one of the au­thors of the study and an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Tu­lane Univer­sity.

As women age, they also see more dis­par­ity in wages, with women ages 20 to 24 re­ceiv­ing 90 per­cent of men’s earn­ings while women over 65 make 74 per­cent of men’s wages, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 study from the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Women us­ing Cen­sus Bu­reau data.

Fill­ing job open­ings with older work­ers

At the peak of job loss caused by the Great Re­ces­sion, U.S. em­ploy­ment had fallen by 8.8 mil­lion jobs, ac­cord­ing to an over­view from the Bu­reau of La­bor Statis­tics. Many older work­ers who were laid off sim­ply dropped out of the job mar­ket per­ma­nently.

But with an un­em­ploy­ment rate now down to 4.3 per­cent, the low­est level since 2001 and what many econ­o­mists con­sider as full em­ploy­ment, com­pa­nies are likely to try to lure back older, skilled work­ers to fill open­ings.

“We’re at a time in our econ­omy right now, near­ing the end of an ex­pan­sion, where un­em­ploy­ment is very low ... so it’s a time where change can oc­cur. Com­pa­nies dip into pools of work­ers that nor­mally they ig­nore from dis­crim­i­na­tion,” said John Chal­lenger, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Chal­lenger, Gray & Christ­mas Inc., an out­place­ment com­pany. “The core fuel for our econ­omy is not en­ergy, it’s par­tic­u­larly skilled work­ers.”


Arno Zwil­len­berg, 91, trains on­line to be­come a no­tary public at his town home in Dal­las on Nov. 15, 2013. More older Amer­i­cans want — or need — to stay in the work­force, but they’re fac­ing age dis­crim­i­na­tion.

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