The appallingly blatant nature of age discrimination in America was recently exposed when more than a dozen major corporations announced a program to hire 100,000 16- to 24-year-olds by 2018.
Starbucks, Microsoft and Walmart, among others, are attempting to make an end run around the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which clearly prohibits age discrimination in hiring. They are couching their “100,000 Opportunities Initiative” as an well-intentioned effort to help young people “who face systemic barriers to jobs and education.”
Younger workers don’t have a monopoly on systemic barriers to jobs and education. The unemployment rate is high at both ends of the age spectrum, but older workers often are forced out of the workplace into an ill-advised “early retirement” by disproportionate long-term and chronic unemployment. A recent report by AARP found that half of the people in the U.S., age 45 to 70, who lost their job during the last five years are still not working. Workers forced to retire at the age of 62 incur at least a 25 percent cut in Social Security benefits; many live in poverty or near poverty for the rest of their lives.
These “leading” corporations have found a cynical way to accomplish an illegal goal. The press release states the initiative includes apprenticeships, internships, training programs, and both part-time and full-time jobs.
The ADEA states unambiguously that it is unlawful “to fail or refuse to hire” any individual “because of such individual’s age.”
Sadly, these corporations are using language from the federal government to justify age discrimination. President Barack Obama in 2010 signed an executive order establishing the Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program, which permits federal agencies to bypass older workers and hire recent graduates. A press release from the Starbucks Newsroom announcing the “100,000 Opportunities Initiative” begin this way:
“Top U.S. – Based Companies Create Pathways to Economic Opportunity for Young Americans.”
This blog has argued that Obama’s executive order sends a clear message to private sector employers that age discrimination is sanctioned by the Obama administration. An executive order has the force of law and, arguably, operates as a legal exemption to the ADEA but no legal justification is offered by the corporations to justify violating the ADEA. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission or Congressional committees that monitor civil rights, employment discrimination and labor law will take notice. Don’t hold your breath.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez is quoted in the press release as stating, “The corporate leaders championing the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative recognize that promoting career opportunities for youth is a win-win, and I hope more employers will follow their lead.”
The following corporations are participating in the “initiative”:
- Alaska Airlines
- CVS Health
- Hilton Worldwide
- JPMorgan Chase
- Potbelly Sandwich Shop
- Taco Bell
Other participants in the initiative are The Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions, the Joyce Foundation, JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Mac Arthur Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Starbucks, Walmart Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The initiative will be launched with a job fair in Chicago in August.
What older worker would want to work at Starbucks? Several do at my local Starbucks. In fact, Michael Gates Gill wrote a best-selling book in 2007 entitled, “How Starbucks Saved My Life.” Then 53, he found himself chronically unemployed after losing a high-paid job at an ad agency during the Great Recession. He had no health insurance and \was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He got a job as a Starbucks barista.