Is Mandatory Retirement of Public Safety Workers Really Necessary?

Millions of older workers are still subject to forced retirement.

One of the problems with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) is that it arbitrarily forces federal law enforcement officers, among others, to retire even if they are demonstrably fit for duty.

In many cases, this means that  taxpayers lose the value of qualified and well-trained employees who are “put out to pasture” for no other reason than that they have reached an arbitrary age, usually 55. These employees often retire with generous taxpayer-funded pension benefits and go on to new careers, depriving the government of valuable skills and experience.

Why age 55?  There’s no reason for that date as opposed to any other, just as the traditional retirement age of 65 was essentially picked out of a hat  in 1889 by Germany’s  first Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.  If 55 made sense to Congress in 1967, when the ADEA was adopted, it makes little sense today due to medical advances that help people stay healthier far longer.

A reasonable plan for weeding out workers who are unqualified to do their jobs is one that is based upon measurable fitness parameters .And that’s where this really makes no sense.  Few would argue that an 89-year-old who wears glasses and uses a cane should be working as a firefighter – but he or she wouldn’t be if an employer requires officers to pass reasonable fitness requirements. Neither would  a 40-year-old firefighter or police officer who is obese and smokes two packs of cigarettes a day.  But a physically fit 56-year-old firefighter would be allowed to continue on the job.

A fitness test would eliminate employees who are not fit for duty and thus reduce the employer’s liability without compromising public safety.

Continue reading “Is Mandatory Retirement of Public Safety Workers Really Necessary?”

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Labor Day: Not Much to Celebrate for Older Workers

United States Flag

There is little for older workers to celebrate this Labor Day 2015.

In recent months, the Obama administration has escalated its unprecedented assault on  the nation’s leading law prohibiting age discrimination in employment, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, blatantly favoring unemployed younger workers over unemployed older workers..

Here’s the status quo:

  • The U.S. government is actively engaged in  age discrimination in the workplace. President Barack Obama in 2010 signed an executive order that permits federal agencies to discriminate against older workers. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez recently endorsed an effort by a coalition of America’s largest corporations to discriminate against older workers. No one seems to care.
  • Congress has failed for six years to pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA). As a result, it is much more difficult for older workers to prevail in an age discrimination lawsuit than it is for workers who are victims of discrimination on the basis of race, sex (including sexual preference), religion and national origin.The POWADA would remove some of the ruinous damage that the U.S. Supreme Court inflicted on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in 2009.
  • No group seems to be advocating for older workers in the halls of Congress. The AARP, which describes itself as the nation’s leading advocate for Americans aged 50 and above, has seen its profits skyrocket since Obamacare was passed. But older Americans have suffered from onerous co-pays and un-reimbursed medical expenses. At this point, almost half of Americans aged 65 and above are considered “economically vulnerable.”  The  AARP is the leading seller of medi-gap health insurance in the United States, and has increasingly expanded its offerings to include everything from new computers to telephones. But apparently the AARP is not making enough money to fight for the passage of  POWADA (see above).
  • Older workers are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the long-term unemployed (those workers who have been looking for work for 27 weeks or longer). Unemployed older workers are twice as likely to be chronically unemployed.  Many are forced to spend down their savings, work in low-wage part-time jobs and, ultimately, retire as soon as possible to obtain Social Security benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 22.1 percent of the unemployed under age 25 had looked for work for 27 weeks or longer in 2014, compared with 44.6 percent of those 55 years and older.  One reason for this sorry state is epidemic and unaddressed age discrimination in hiring.
  • The Social Security Administration’s formula for dispersing Social Security benefits favors the rich and penalizes the poor (i.e. long-term unemployed who are forced into a penurious retirement due to age discrimination). Of course, women and minorities who have experienced career-long discrimination in the workplace suffer the most under this ancient benefits formula.

I could go on but you get the idea.  In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I advocate scrapping the ADEA and adding age as a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Library of Congress refuses to catalog my book, to make it available to policy-makers, because it is self-published. Sigh.  If you know a Congressional representative, spread the word.

If older workers and older Americans do not find real advocates in the coming year, it is very likely that nothing will change. 

Rips in the Fabric of the Social Security “Safety Net”

Much of the concern about unemployment today focuses on the alarming number of younger workers who can’t find jobs and not upon the plight of older workers who have the “safety net” of Social Security.

Of course, this is not a contest. It is a tragedy that younger workers are unemployed but it also should be of concern that older Americans are suffering. It is trueEconomic Policy Institute that Social Security keeps older Americans from homelessness and starvation but studies show that 9.5 percent of Americans over the age of 65 (including 11 percent of women) live in poverty and almost half of older Americans are “economically vulnerable.”  The so-called safety net is torn and insecure.

When Social Security was adopted in the 1930s it was not designed to be the sole source of support for older Americans in retirement. It was intended to supplement pensions and savings. The demise of  traditional defined benefit pensions began more than 30 years ago and millions of older workers lost homes and savings during the worst recession in 100 years. (2007-2009).  Many retiring workers today have nominal resources to fall back on aside from Social Security.

It should be (but sadly does not seem to be) of concern to policy-makers that older workers suffer disproportionately from age discrimination in employment and chronic long-term unemployment., which condemns them to poverty or near poverty in retirement. Continue reading “Rips in the Fabric of the Social Security “Safety Net””

Raise the “Minimum Wage” (Social Security) for Older Americans

poor-old-ladyThere’s been a lot of outrage about the plight of Americans who are poor despite working full-time jobs – even a movement to raise the minimum wage.

But what about  the 20 million Americans over the age of 65 who worked a lifetime only to be forced to spend their remaining years in poverty or near  poverty conditions?  The national debate around Social Security ignores the plight of older Americans and focuses on ways to cut Social Security and Medicare by raising the age of eligibility, means testing, etc.

Why the disconnect?

For one thing, the campaign to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers is funded by unions. Millions of economically vulnerable older Americans were involuntarily pushed out of the workforce by epidemic and unaddressed age discrimination or ill-health. They have no union and, apparently, no other effective advocate.

Another reason is that elder poverty is poorly understood . The federal government’s official poverty rate for older Americans – like the U.S. unemployment rate and the Social Security benefit formula –   is outdated and misrepresents reality. The official poverty rate was created by the Census Bureau in the 1960s and looks only at a family or individual’s cash income. In 2010, the  Bureau was forced to create an alternative measure, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), that provides a more realistic picture. The SPM reflects not only available financial resources but liabilities (taxes, out-of-pocket medial spending, housing expenses and other factors) and cost of living differences between states. However, the SPM still is not the “official” measure that is widely cited by politicians and policy makers. So many Americans do not have a realistic picture of true elder poverty.

The official poverty rate for older Americans is a fictional measure perpetuated by a moribund federal bureaucracy that is stuck somewhere in the 1960s.

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently did an analysis comparing the Census Bureau’s official poverty rate and the SPM poverty rate for Americans aged 65 and above. The Foundation reports the poverty rate among older adults is higher under the SPM (15%) than under the official measure (10%) because the SPM deducts out-of-pocket medical expenses from income when estimating the share of people living in poverty. Continue reading “Raise the “Minimum Wage” (Social Security) for Older Americans”

Age Discrimination: It’s a Question of Time

Starbucks InitiativeIt can be difficult for workers who are starting out or who are in the midst of an exciting career to think ahead.

It is a bummer to contemplate the certain prospect that the merry-go-round will some day stop.

Fear of and distaste for aging are among the reasons that society collectively ignores age discrimination in employment in the United States. Moreover, victims of age discrimination often find themselves in the undesirable position of competing with victims of other types of discrimination for attention and scarce resources.

Age discrimination is blatant but invisible. Many states, for example, require judges to retire at age 70, even if they are perfectly capable and fit. The thinking goes that forcing these mostly white judges to retire encourages diversity by making room for African-Americans and Hispanics, who are underrepresented in the judiciary. But judges don’t live forever and the judiciary inevitably will become more diverse without age discrimination. Meanwhile, there are many non-discriminatory ways of getting rid of incompetent employees, including judges.

The kind of short-sighted thinking way that encourages age discrimination discounts the tremendous down-side of the problem.

Age discrimination dehumanizes individuals by assigning them group traits that often are negative and unfounded.

Age discrimination denies older workers their individuality and personhood (not to mention their right to work).

A society that countenances any type of irrational employment discrimination undermines the foundational American principles of equality and equal justice under the law. You can’t just be equal when you’re young and cool. If you’re not equal when you are older too, then the equality that you thought you had was illusory. There is and can be no justification for exempting one disfavored group — older workers — from societal protections against employment discrimination. Continue reading “Age Discrimination: It’s a Question of Time”

Social Security Penalizes the Poor & Rewards the Rich

inequality I went to a restaurant recently where a server, a man who appeared to be in his late 60s, had obvious hearing problems despite wearing a hearing aid.  We had to repeat our food order and he forgot my wine (or perhaps never heard me order it).  It made me think about the pressure that older workers are under to remain in the workplace as a result of the Social Security Administration’s discriminatory benefits formula.

The formula is rigged to benefit those who stay in the workplace the longest. If workers retire at age 62 – the earliest possible age –  they suffer a 33 percent loss in their monthly benefit for the rest of their lives compared to workers who wait until age 66.  If workers can hold out and retire at age 70 – the oldest retirement age in the formula – they will receive a benefit that is 75 percent higher than if they had retired at age 62.

The problem is that many, if not most, older workers have little real choice about whether they will remain in the workforce.

Voya Financial, Inc. recently released findings from a poll  of 1,002 recent retirees that found 60 percent had to stop working unexpectedly. Thirty-three percent said they left their jobs involuntarily. Of this group, 16 percent had to retire because of health challenges, 11 percent lost their jobs, three percent had to stop working because they had to care for a spouse or dependent, and an additional three percent retired involuntarily because of their age.

Once an older worker is jobless, the chance that he or she will find new employment is almost nil due to epidemic, blatant and unaddressed age discrimination in hiring. These jobless older workers are forced to spend down their savings and work in low-paid part-time and temp jobs until they age into a financially ill-advised early “retirement.”   The AARP reported in February that older job seekers represented 24 percent of the unemployed in March 2013 but 31 percent of the long-term unemployed. The AARP cited one study showing that only about one in nine long-term unemployed workers had steady full-time jobs 12 months later. Older non-Hispanic blacks had the highest rate of long-term unemployment (57 percent), followed by Hispanics  (53 percent) and whites (47 percent). How ironic that these Americans are subjected to discrimination a second time –  by the Social Security Administration!

The Social Security benefits formula penalizes the poor.

Continue reading “Social Security Penalizes the Poor & Rewards the Rich”

Close the Social Security Gender Gap

father-knows-best_359There is outcry about the 22 percent wage gap between male and female workers but what about the even bigger 29 percent Social Security gap?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) reports that the average annual Social Security income received by women 65 years and older in 2013 was $12,857, compared to $16,590 for men.  That gap can mean the difference between living frugally and living in poverty.  And many more older women do live in poverty than men. According to a 2013 study by the National Women’s Law Center, nearly 2.9 million women aged 65 and older lived in poverty, compared to 1.3 million men.

So why do women receive a lesser Social Security benefit than men?

The short answer is that Social Security rewards men for sex discrimination in the workplace, and perpetuates the harm suffered by women who are subject to sex discrimination in the workplace.

Just as it is important to eliminate the gender wage gap, it is important to eliminate the gender Social Security gap.

Continue reading “Close the Social Security Gender Gap”