The fastest-growing segment of the American workforce is employees age 65 and older. The reasons are many. Over the past decade, real wage growth has stagnated, pensions have disappeared, workers are delaying claiming Social Security benefits to maximize payouts, and lifespans are longer, leaving seniors worried they will burn through their retirement savings way too soon.
According to a Gallup 2018 survey of 1,015 adults age 18 and older across the United States, 41 percent of participants who are not retired plan to leave the job market at age 66 or older, a figure that has risen from 12 percent in the 1995 study and 26 percent in 2004. This number will likely keep growing.
Yet this hasn't changed the way most companies talk about their hiring priorities.
Many firms today focus more intently on how to recruit and retain millennials, and they base success on the percentage of their workers that now come from this younger generation.
Some job postings mention a "maximum number of years experience" or use a date-of-birth dropdown menu without an applicant's birth year listed. Words like "overqualified" can be code for too expensive. A corporate culture described as "fun" can suggest a workplace for the young. It is difficult for older workers to master the difficult interview process, and make discrimination claims once in a job.
Older workers are encountering widespread age discrimination, according to AARP. According to its 2018 Multicultural Work and Jobs Study, 61 percent of respondents over the age of 45 reported seeing or experiencing age-based discrimination in the workplace. What's more, senior workers are in a weakened position when it comes to a crucial workplace protection based on a recent Supreme Court decision and the legal safeguards that shield against wrongful termination or demotion, like claims covered under the Civil Rights Act.
"It's an open secret, and everyone knows it happens all the time, but few people stand up and say it's wrong," said Cathy Ventrell-Monsees, a senior attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "When it comes to age discrimination — stereotyping and comments — they seem too common."
Applicants and employees age 40 and older are protected from age discrimination in employment under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA, which was created in 1967 as an extension of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which doesn't cover age discrimination.
A 2009 Supreme Court ruling in "Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc.," however, set a higher bar for employees to prove that age was the deciding factor in an age discrimination claim that wasn't applied similarly to race, color, religion, sex or national origin.