Will the AARP Fight for Seniors or Itself?

AARPHouse Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposal to essentially privatize Medicare to cut costs is causing fear among older Americans who rely upon Medicare for health coverage.

Who is fighting to  protect the interests of older Americans?

Today, the AARP’s web site features the “Ultimate Super Bowl Quiz,” hot travel deals, and suggestions about what movies to watch this weekend. Toward the bottom of the page, there are two links, “AARP on the Front Lines Defending Medicare,” and “Tell Congress to Protect Medicare.”

The AARP has a complicated relationship with Medicare. It is the nation’s largest purveyor of supplemental Medi-gap health insurance, reaping literally billions each year in profits from seniors who are essentially forced to purchase catastrophic coverage to stave off health-induced financial disaster. One reason that seniors must purchase Medi-gap insurance in the first place is the AARP.

The AARP has a major conflict of interest with respect to Medicare.

The AARP was sharply criticized several years ago as selling out older Americans when it supported Obamacare, which cut $716 billion from Medicare to pay for its $1.9 trillion expansion of coverage to low-income Americans. Not coincidentally, the AARP obtained the equivalent of a waiver in the new law when Obama abandoned reforms that would have saved seniors hundreds of dollars in Medi-gap premiums a year.

Clearly, the AARP is not a disinterested party in the debate over the future of Medicare but it is, unfortunately, the elephant in the room by virtue of its 38 million members, many of whom joined to take advantage of AARP licensing deals that purportedly give members a small discount on hotels, car rentals, etc.

On its web site, the AARP states reassuringly that it has launched a “national campaign to fight proposals to turn Medicare into a voucher system.” But what does that really mean? No vouchers unless the AARP gets its cut?

Laura Polacheck, the communications director of the AARP Utah, on Feb. 1 issued a press release condemning  House Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposal to privatize the government-run health program for people with disabilities and those aged 65 and older. Polacheck says AARP staff and volunteers will remind members of Congress that Ryan’s proposal would put more than 300,000 Utah seniors’ benefits at risk, as well as the benefits of over 400,000 workers who are set to transition to Medicare over the next 15 years.

That’s all fine and good but older Americans would be wise to demand transparency from the AARP. What does the AARP have to gain and what do older Americans have to lose?

After an investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy, the AARP last year was pressured into dropping its membership in the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization affiliated with the Koch brothers that drafts and promotes bills that would undermine and privatize Social Security and Medicare. The AARP, a “trustee level” sponsor of ALEC’s 2016 annual meeting, claimed it was merely taking advantage of ” an opportunity to engage with state legislators and advance our members’ priorities.”

I have long bemoaned the absence of a true advocacy group for older America, such as the DaneAge Association in Denmark.

The AARP has done virtually nothing for 50 years to combat the legal inequality of older Americans in the workplace. Apparently, the AARP has no marketing incentive to pay more than lip service to this issue.

DaneAge is an independent, non-profit national membership organization founded in 1986 to provide advocacy “through an ongoing dialogue with the government and the public, promoting a society without age barriers and ageism.”  DaneAge has 690,000 members in 217 local chapters across Denmark, including 15,775 volunteers who engage in local advocacy. Among other things, the organization, which has approximately 100 staff members,  provides “free-of-charge and impartial legal advice and counsel” by lawyers and other professionals.

Denmark is widely regarded as having the highest quality of life  for its citizens in the world.

Half Century of Inequality: Age Discrimination in Employment Act

d 40 nPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00069]2017 will mark the 50th anniversary of Public Law 90-202, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), enacted on December 15, 1967.

But there is little to celebrate.

For 50 years, America’s older workers have been denied equal protection from unfounded and harmful discrimination in employment.

 Federal law today not only fails to protect older workers but effectively allows employers to drive older workers out of well-paying jobs in their 40s and 50s and then out of the workforce altogether in their 60s. This has led to unemployment, underemployment and poverty in old age for many older Americans, especially for women. 

The ADEA is the frail stepsister of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which was passed three years earlier to protect job applicants, employees and union members from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin and religion. Age was proposed for inclusion in Title VII but was omitted when Congress decided more study was needed about the nature of the problem. 

As I explain in my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, the law finally passed by Congress to address age discrimination in employment was far weaker than Title VII.  The ADEA both prohibits and legalizes age discrimination. 

Congress gave mere lip service to prohibiting age discrimination. The substantive part of the ADEA was patterned after Title VII but the ADEA includes gaping loopholes, such as permitting “reasonable” discrimination against older workers and allowing mandatory retirement of public safety workers, state elected officials and high-placed business executives.

Unlike Title VII, the damages part of Title VII is patterned after the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a federal law that regulates the payment of minimum wages and overtime. As a result, victims of age discrimination in employment are treated as if they were shorted on their paycheck and not as workers who suffered grievous and long-lasting injury. The ADEA does not permit a court to order an employer to pay punitive or compensatory damages to an age discrimination victim. The most a victim can recover is twice the amount of monetary loss suffered (if no monetary loss was suffered, the victim and his/her attorney  get nothing).

If that wasn’t bad enough, the gap between the ADEA and Title VII has grown much wider over the years as a result of misguided decisions by pro-business federal courts.  It is now much more difficult to prevail in an ADEA case than a Title VII case. One appeals court has even ruled that job applicants aged 40 and above are completely without protection from discrimination on the basis of age.

In addition, the Obama administration made the situation much worse when he signed an executive order that permits age discrimination by federal agencies.

A new year marks a new beginning.

One can hope the Trump administration will reverse President Obama’s discriminatory executive order permitting age discrimination by federal agencies.

One can hope the U.S. Congress and the federal courts will – at the very least – take steps to insure that older workers receive the same rights and protections as other discrimination victims. If repeal of the ADEA is not possible this year, Congress should at least pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, first proposed more than a decade ago. The POWADA would reverse a particularly disastrous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006.

Hope, of course, is an unreliable vehicle for change. We must demand action. Action is long overdue.

What About Social Security? Topic Mostly Ignored in Pres. Election

puzzlepieceThere has been surprisingly little discussion about the future of Social Security in the ongoing presidential election campaign, leaving questions about what the candidates will actually do if elected.

Democrat Hillary Clinton’s position seems to depend upon her audience:

  • “I won’t cut Social Security. … I’ll defend it, and I’ll expand it.” www.hillaryclinton.com, February 5, 2016.
  • “In lucrative paid speeches that Hillary Clinton delivered to elite financial firms but refused to disclose to the public, she displayed an easy comfort with titans of business, embraced unfettered international trade and praised a budget-balancing plan that would have required cuts to Social Security, according to documents posted online Friday by WikiLeaks.” The New York TImes, Leaked Speech Excerpts Show a Hillary Clinton at East with Wall Street, Oct. 7, 2016.

Republican Donald Trump’s position is vague. He seems to promise not to cut Social Security for existing recipients but certainly does not commit himself to expansion of the program.

  • “I’m going to save Social Security. You have tremendous waste, fraud and abuse. We have in Social Security thousands of people over 106 years old. You know they don’t exist. There’s tremendous waste, fraud and abuse, and we’re going to get it. But we’re not going to hurt the people who have been paying into Social Security their whole life and then all of a sudden they’re supposed to get less. We’re bringing jobs back.”  Source: 2016 CBS Republican primary debate in South Carolina, Feb 13, 2016

The fate of Social Security is vital to 40 million retired Americans, including 21% of married couples and about 43% of unmarried persons who rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.

Of course, what politicians promise during the election season is not always what they deliver. President Barack Obama promised the following and then did the reverse:

  • “Obama will fight job discrimination for aging employees by strengthening the Age Discrimination in Employment Act … .”  Source: Blueprint for Change (2008).

Two years later, President Obama signed an executive order that carves out an exception to the ADEA that permits the nation’s largest employer, the federal government, to discriminate on the basis of age in hiring for federal jobs. This was done in plain sight but there was no protest – nor indeed any comment – from the AARP, which is busy mining its treasure trove of older members through the sales of Medigap health insurance and licensing agreements. And Obama’s administration has ignored the epidemic of age discrimination in hiring that has forced millions of older workers out of the workplace and into an uncertain and ill-advised retirement.

Would Trump Halt Age Discrimination by Feds?

TrumpIn his address to the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, GOP Presidential hopeful Donald Trump said something that could have tremendous impact on the problem of age discrimination in employment.

He promised to immediately cancel all of President Barack Obama’s “illegal and overreaching executive orders.”

Older workers have been subject to blatant age discrimination in hiring by our nation’s largest employer, the U.S. government, since President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2010 that essentially created an exemption to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) for federal agencies.

President Obama’s order allows federal agencies to bypass older workers and hire “recent graduates.” The ADEA unambiguously states that it is unlawful for any employer “to fail or refuse to hire” any individual “because of such individual’s age.” Obama’s order has a disparate impact upon older workers because the vast majority of recent graduates are under age 30.

Paradoxically, President Obama claimed that merit-based civil service rules put the federal government at a “competitive disadvantage compared to private-sector employers when it comes to hiring qualified applicants for entry-level positions.” The point of civil service regulations is, of course, to hire the best qualified applicant. Obama’s order enables federal agencies to hire young applicants with fewer qualifications than older applicants. Continue reading “Would Trump Halt Age Discrimination by Feds?”

W.H. Aging Conf. Goes Out with a Whimper

The 2015 White House Conference on Aging released its final report Tuesday without mentioning rampant age discrimination in employment or the financial plight of older Americans caused by the collapse of Wall Street.

Celia Munoz, director of the Obama administration’s Domestic Policy Council,  congratulated the Obama administration for accomplishing a “great deal” while recognizing there is still much more work to do.  Munoz  assures us that a “better informed vision for aging in America” emerged from the Conference.

To some, the conference was a disappointing public relations event. The Obama administration partnered with the AARP, which actually organized regional events. The AARP is the nation’s leading purveyor of Medi-gap health insurance to older adults. Not surprisingly, a major theme of the Conference was healthy aging.

Conference organizers completely ignored repeated pleas to examine the link between elder poverty, the on-going epidemic of age discrimination in hiring and the disappearance of defined benefit pensions.

Some of the Conference’s highly-touted initiatives come far too late to help older adults today. For example, Obama proposed a portable retirement account that workers can take from job to job and  a law requiring financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interests.

An alarming percentage of America’s older adults today literally have no money, having lost jobs, homes and savings in the financial meltdown.

The Social Security Administration estimates the average Social Security benefit is $13,000 a year, from which Medicare payments are then deducted.  For 36 percent of recipients, Social Security provides 90 percent or more of their income.  For 24 percent of recipients, it is the sole source of retirement income.

The White House has held a Conference on Aging every decade since 1961. The 2015 Conference was a shell of its predecessors because, according to the administration, Congress failed to allocate sufficient funds for the event. In the past,  delegates from around the country converged in Washington, D.C., to discuss ways to  improve the quality of life of older Americans.

It seems more likely that the plight of older adults is simply not a priority for either Congress or the Obama administration.

There’s always 2025?

 

 

Obama’s Misguided Plan to Boost Diversity Through Age Discrimination

A better plan would be to create an equal playing field, regardless of race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, and age. Isn’t that what Martin Luther King advocated?

In a difficult economy, generations often find themselves pitted against each other for scarce resources, including jobs. But there is a new twist to this theme today. In recent years, the U.S.government has justified age discrimination as a way of increasing  “diversity” in federal hiring.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2010 that permits the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to  bypass older workers and hire “recent graduates.” The regulations went into effect on July 10, 2012.

Obama said he wanted to remove “barriers” in hiring younger workers  caused by civil service regulations and “to achieve a workforce that represents all segments of society.” Obama  wants to “infuse” the federal government with the “enthusiasm, talents and  unique perspective” of young people.

More recently, Obama’s Labor Secretary, Thomas E. Perez,  publicly endorsed a private initiative by some of America’s leading corporations to blatantly violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by hiring 100,000 disadvantaged inner city residents between the ages of 16 and 24 for full-time and part-time jobs.

There are so many reasons why Obama’s  “winners and losers” plan to boost diversity is just plain  wrong.

 Obama’s strategy is counter intuitive. Discrimination cannot be contained in neat little categories. Age discrimination builds on race and sex discrimination. This is why women, especially minority women, are the most prone to poverty in their old age. Obama’s approach simply kicks the can down the road. Continue reading “Obama’s Misguided Plan to Boost Diversity Through Age Discrimination”

Study Finds Age Discrimination is Particularly Bad for Women

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Illegal age discrimination in hiring is rampant and is particularly bad for older women.

These conclusions were reached in a study released Monday by three economists – David Neumark and Ian Burn of the University of California at Irvine and Patrick Button of Tulane University.

The researchers sent out fictional resumes in response to 40,000 job ads and found that callbacks were much higher for younger groups no matter what kind of job was being advertised. But older women had the fewest call backs. The study looked at a dozen cities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston. Here are some of the study findings:

  • “First, for the one occupation where we study both men and women – sales – we find considerably stronger evidence of discrimination against older women than older men; indeed if one emphasizes the evidence from the unobservables correction, there is evidence of age discrimination only for women. “
  • “ … more generally across the many analyses we present, the evidence of age discrimination against older women is strong and robust, while the evidence for older men is less clear.”
  • “We only consistently find evidence of age discrimination for one of three occupations in which we study men (security), and in this case the evidence is not statistically strong.”

The higher rate of age discrimination for women may be the combination of age and sex discrimination, plus the impact of physical appearance.

Continue reading “Study Finds Age Discrimination is Particularly Bad for Women”