The White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) issued its first “policy brief” Friday afternoon, addressing the issue of “healthy aging.”
Get ready for news of a truly momentous policy announcement – The Conference is urging a “shift in the way we think and talk about aging. Rather than focusing on the limitations of aging, older adults across the nation want to focus instead on the opportunities of aging.” Oh, and older adults should get physical activity, good nutrition and good medical care.
No, this is not an April fools joke. With all of the problems facing older Americans, the Obama administration essentially wants us all to think happy thoughts.
Meanwhile, the WHCOA has completely ignored calls to address the problem of age discrimination in employment, which, among other things, condemns older workers to a retirement of poverty or near poverty.
According to a 2013 study by Economic Policy Institute, nearly half (48.0 percent) of the elderly population is “economically vulnerable,” defined as having an income that is less than two times the supplemental poverty threshold. This equates to roughly 19.9 million economically vulnerable seniors. Women and minorities have far higher rates of economic vulnerability.
As I note in my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, older workers literally are second class citizens under the law. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Age discrimination is not treated with the seriousness of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin. In fact, President Obama signed an executive order in 2010 that allows the federal government to discriminate on the basis age in hiring. Obama’s reprehensible Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program legitimizes age discrimination and sends a message to employers that its okay.
Rather than tackle substantive issues, the WHCOA appears to be intent upon focusing on soft issues that will not require engagement with Congress. Who disagrees with the premise that society must shift the way it thinks and talks about aging? Alternatively, who thinks we should continue to harbor outdated and false stereotypes about older people? This is not the stuff of a real, concrete policy initiative. This is the stuff of motivational calendars.
Just last week, the AARP, which is partnering with the WHCOA, reported that half of older workers who experienced unemployment in the last five years are not working: 38% reported they were unemployed and 12% had dropped out of the labor force. Forty-one percent of older workers who experienced long-term unemployment are working in part-time jobs. Employers today drive older workers out of good jobs through bogus restructurings and layoffs. Once unemployed, older workers become mired in chronic unemployment and are forced to take part-time jobs and spend down their savings until they age into a financially ill-advised early retirement.
I signed up for automatic email notifications from the WHCOA and received notice of this first WCOA “policy brief” in an email on Friday afternoon. I checked Google news to see if anyone had written a news article about it but found nothing. Of course, if you really want press coverage, you don’t issue a press release on Friday afternoon. And if you want change you don’t ignore the elephant in the room.