Not Such a Great Time to Celebrate Older Americans Month?

Logos2Not everyone may agree that this month – which is Older Americans Month – is “the perfect time to celebrate what getting older looks like today.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells us the theme of 2017 Older American’s Month is  “Age Out Loud” to “give aging a new voice—one that reflects what today’s older adults have to say.”

Here goes …

A lot of the older Americans I know are fraught with anxiety, most recently focused on President Donald Trump’s proposed revised healthcare plan. An estimated 25 million older Americans currently live on the edge. They fear our billionaire president and the Corporate lackeys in Congress will dump them  into a penurious old age and premature death by limiting their access to quality health care.

Meanwhile, Congressional inaction continues to allow American employers to drive older Americans out of good jobs in their 40s and 50s through epidemic and unaddressed age discrimination in employment.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) was weak when it was adopted 50 years ago when compared to  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, gender and national origin.  Since then it has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has made it almost impossible to win a federal age discrimination lawsuit.

Unemployed older Americans are forced to spend down their savings and work in low-paid gigs or part-time jobs until they are 62 and qualify for Social Security, which will mean they receive significantly lower benefits  for the rest of their lives compared to richer folk who can wait longer to retire.

Women fare the worst in our rigged system. The National Council on Aging says women make $4,500 less annually in Social Security than men due to lower lifetime earnings, time taken off for caregiving, occupational segregation into lower wage work, and other issues. Older women of color fare worst of all. (SSA, 2015).

The NCOA estimates that the more than 25 million Americans aged 60+ who are economically insecure struggle with rising housing and health care bills, inadequate nutrition, lack of access to transportation, diminished savings, and job loss. For older adults who are above the poverty level, the NCOA states, one major adverse life event can change today’s realities into tomorrow’s troubles.

Behind the Scenes: Discrimination by Job Search Engines

WalmartGreeterSeveral years ago, I filed a formal complaint with the EEOC that attorney internet job search web sites were blatantly discriminating in hiring on the basis of age.

I did this after finding dozens of ads targeting members of the most recent graduating class(es) on Lawjobs.com.

Months later, the EEOC, which supposedly implements the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), sent me a piece of paper saying that it was not going to do anything but I could file a lawsuit if I wanted to. Not being independently wealthy, I had no choice but to pass.

Today, I looked again. I found absolutely no ads on Lawjobs.com for “recent graduates” or “members of the Class of….”  What does this mean?

Does it mean the search engine is not engaging in age discrimination or does it mean that age discrimination is now taking place behind the scenes?

It’s hard to conclude that Lawjobs.com has gone “straight” given a series of events that have come to light which showcase the role of internet job search engines in age discrimination.

In the case of Villarreal v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, the plaintiff applied a half-dozen times for a territory sales manager job only to learn the company was using internet software behind the scenes on Careerbuilder.com to target resumes from workers  with fewer than eight years of experience.

Reynolds hired 1,024 applicants for territory sales manager positions over a three-year period, of whom only 19 were over the age of 40.

A federal appeals court last year eliminated any prospect for a class action lawsuit in the Reynolds case when it ruled the ADEA does not cover job applicants who are the victims of systemic and calculated age discrimination in hiring because they are not “employees.” This ruling, by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta,  remains in effect today in Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a press release recently stating she began  investigating alleged age discrimination by internet search engines after a 70-year-old man complained that a resume building tool on Jobr, an app owned by Monster Worldwide, excluded job applicants over the age of 52. A drop down menu required applicants to select the year they graduated or got their first job but the dates only went back to 1980.

Madigan queried six job search engines about their practices. So far, three have responded, CareerBuilder, Beyond and Indeed. All admitted to using resume building software containing age limitations that deter older applicants; all said they fixed the software upon learning of Madigan’s concerns.

I think it is reasonable to conclude that many (if not most) internet search engines for years have silently engaged in age discrimination against older job applicants. This has contributed to longstanding chronic unemployment for older workers, who often are forced to retire as soon as they become eligible to receive Social Security benefits, whereupon they quietly disappear from government employment statistics. Age discrimination in hiring makes it impossible for older job applicants to earn a decent wage and to finance a secure retirement. As a result, many, particularly women, endure an old age marked by difficult choices, anxiety and poverty.

But who is going to stop it?

Madigan told NPR that her office simply wants to stop the specific practice that relates to discriminatory resume building tools but not file a lawsuit.

The AARP has done virtually nothing about age discrimination in employment for 50 years; It wrote an amicus or friend of the court brief in the Reynolds case.

The EEOC is almost completely absent from the age discrimination scene, despite an unprecedented increase in age discrimination complaints during and since the Great Recession. It filed two – yes, two – lawsuits with age discrimination claims last year. Age discrimination complaints comprise almost a quarter of all complaints received by the EEOC.

Me? Alas, I still can’t afford to finance years of complex litigation against some of America’s largest corporations.

My 2014 book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, chronicles the epic failure of all three branches of government to address the completely predictable problem of age discrimination during and since the collapse of Wall Street. It is an  appalling abdication of governmental responsibility and it continues.

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.

Why are so many retired women poor?

poor-old-ladyThe National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) has issued a new report stating that women are 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished at age 65 and older.

The report,  Shortchanged in Retirement, The Continuing Challenges to Women’s Financial Future,  proposes, among other things, strengthening Social Security benefits for women to reduce their vulnerability to financial hardship as they age.

Diane Oakley, NIRS executive director and report co-author, says women are  “financially disadvantaged because we still earn less than men and we typically take time out of our careers for caregiving – both of which reduce our ability to prepare for retirement.” The NIRS report also notes that women more often work for employers that do not offer a retirement plan and  women face more years in retirement because they live longer than men.

All of this is true but it is disappointing that the NIRS  does not even acknowledge a major problem facing older women – age discrimination in employment.

The NIRS report reflects the sad fact that age discrimination in employment is invisible, even to those who should know better.

Women are pushed out the workplace earlier than men and then find it far more difficult to get a new job. Women are forced to spend down their savings and take poorly paid part-time or temp work, which limits their ability to save. The median income of women age 65 and older is consistently 25 percent lower than the median income of men of the same age. Continue reading “Why are so many retired women poor?”

Theft: Social Security Retirement Fund

chris christieGov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., was the only one to substantively address the future of Social Security in this week’s Republican debate in South Carolina and he said something that is noteworthy:

“We have seniors out there who are scared to death because this Congress — this one that we have right now, just stole $150 billion from the Social Security retirement fund to give it to the Social Security disability fund. A Republican Congress did that.

And the fact is it was wrong. And they consorted with Barack Obama to steal from Social Security. We need to reform Social Security. Mine is the only plan that saves over $1 trillion and that’s why I’m answering your question.”

In the past, Christie has argued that there are only two options to save Social Security  – cut benefits for the wealthy and raise the retirement age or raise taxes for everyone.

He proposes cutting Social Security benefits for people who earn over $80,000 a year and eliminating benefits  entirely for seniors who are earn over $200,000. He also proposed increasing the retirement age by a month a year to age 68 over a 25-year period. The only other option, says Christie is raising taxes for everyone.

I checked the AARP web site to see if there was any coverage of this issue. There was a puff piece on the very spending bill that Christie is discussing and stories on “Sign Off: Tips to Avoid Holiday Porch Predators” and “Surf Safely: Watch Out for Public Wi-Fi Fraud This Holiday.” Let’s not be too judgmental. If you were earning billions through the sale of Medi-gap health insurance – which is necessary because America lacks a universal health care program – you probably wouldn’t the rock the boat either.

 

The Fourth Dimension – More Ageism in the Media

fish-and-chipsA  column by Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post claims the Baby Boomer generation is responsible for America’s woes, from the federal debt to climate change. .

A video on the web site shows two fat white boomers sipping Merlot and noshing  peanuts, with the tagline, “Baby boomers pillaged our economy. They should help fix it.”  Tankersley advocates cutting Social Security for retirees.

“Politicians shouldn’t be talking about holding that generation harmless. They should be asking how future workers can claw back some of the spoils that the “Me Generation” hoarded for itself,” writes Tankersley.

 The Fourth Estate or the Fourth Dimension?

There is no acknowledgement that.America’s tax and political structure benefits the obscenely wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Research shows that boomers are affected by wealth inequality, just like everyone else.  Moreover, boomers lost houses and savings during the Great Recession, brought on by unregulated Wall Street bankers and financiers who plundered the middle class without consequence.

Boomers today suffer from chronic long-term unemployment and epidemic age discrimination hiring. Should we blame millennials for refusing to hire older workres – or a federal government that has abdicated its responsibility to insure equal justice for all? Continue reading “The Fourth Dimension – More Ageism in the Media”

Older Women Struggle in the Workplace

There is considerable evidence that older women face unique struggles in the workplace.

  • Older women appear to experience among the highest rates of workplace bullying.
  • Older women have the highest wage gap when compared to both men and women as a group.
  • The number of age discrimination complaints filed by older women with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has skyrocketed in recent years, raising questions about whether older women are being excluded from participation in the “new” economy.

One of the biggest problems facing older women is hiring discrimination, which involves both sex and age discrimination. This is particularly obvious in the high-tech sector. Google, for example, admitted in 2014 that women comprised only 30 percent of its workplace but the company was strangely silent about the age of its employees.  A class action lawsuit  earlier this year accused Google of gross age discrimination in hiring.

It seemswomen in the workplace obvious that older women are more adversely affected by the discriminatory hiring practices of America’s high tech industries.

Meanwhile,there has been a tremendous spike in age discrimination lawsuits filed by women in recent years. Cathy Vontrell-Monsees, senior counsel for the EEOC, told the National Press Foundation earlier this year that the percentage of age discrimination cases filed by women jumped from 32 percent in 2007 to 45 percent in 2013.

It should be noted that in the early years of the ADEA, which was passed in 1967, most workers who filed age discrimination lawsuits were white, male, middle managers or professionals over the age of 50. Only about 14 percent of claimants were women. Researchers theorized that female workers were less likely to file an ADEA lawsuit because they had lower wages and didn’t stand to gain as much. The increase in age discrimination complaints filed by women may also say something about how older men are faring in the workplace. Continue reading “Older Women Struggle in the Workplace”