Age Discrimination, Workplace Issues at House Hearing

Published in RINewsToday.com on March 22, 2021

Just days ago, Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), chairperson of the House Committee on Education and Labor and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) introduced, H.R. 2062, the bipartisan “Protection Older Workers Against Discrimination Act” (POWADA), a bill that would strengthen federal anti-discrimination protections for older workers. The legislation was introduced March 18, 2021, the same day of a joint House Education and Labor Subcommittee hearing, held to address a variety of workplace issues.  POWADA has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor for consideration.

The reintroduction of POWADA is timely.  As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, older workers are attempting to keep their jobs, working more and longer than they ever have. When seniors lose their jobs, they are far more likely than younger workers to join the ranks of the long-term unemployed. And unfortunately, discrimination appears to be a significant factor in older workers’ long-term unemployment.

A 2018 survey conducted by the Washington, DC-based AARP found that 3 in 5 workers age 45 and older had seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. The 2018 survey also found that three-quarters of older workers blame age discrimination for their lack of confidence in being able to find a new job.

Congress Gears Up to Again Fight Age Discrimination

Reps. Scott and Davis were joined by seven Republicans and 14 Democrats, including Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee Chair Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chair Alma Adams (D-NC) to support H.R. 2062.

Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline has also requested to be a co-sponsor of this legislation.

POWADA was first introduced in Congress after an adverse 2009 Supreme Court decision, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, made it much more difficult for older workers to prove claims of illegal bias based on age. Under Gross, plaintiffs seeking to prove age discrimination in employment are required to demonstrate that age was the sole motivating factor for the employer’s adverse action.  The Supreme Court ruling upends decades of precedent that had allowed individuals to prove discrimination by showing that a discriminatory motive was one of the factors on which an employer’s adverse action was based.

Scott’s reintroduced POWADA returns the legal standard for age discrimination claims to the pre-2009 evidentiary threshold, aligning the burden of proof with the same standards for proving discrimination based on race and national origin.

“Everyone– regardless of their age – should be able to go to work every day knowing that they are protected from discrimination. Unfortunately, age discrimination in the workplace is depriving older workers of opportunities and exposing them to long-term unemployment and severe financial hardship, says chairperson Scott, noting that the reintroduced bipartisan bill would finally restore the legal rights under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which covers workers age 40 and over.

Republican Rep. Rodney Davis puts aside political differences and has stepped up to the plate with a handful of GOP lawmakers to co-sponsor Scott’s POWADA legislation. “Every American, including older Americans, deserves to work in a workplace or jobsite that is free from discrimination. That’s why I’m proud to team up with chairperson Bobby Scott and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in introducing the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act. Our bipartisan bill provides workplace protections for older workers by removing barriers they have to filing discrimination claims, ensuring their workplace rights can be enforced, says Davis, pledging to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to finally get the bill passed,” he says.    

Oregon Rep. Bonamici, who chairs the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services, notes that her state has a rapidly aging population, and age discrimination in the workplace remains disturbingly pervasive.  She joins Scott in cosponsoring POWADA.

“I’ve heard from Oregonians who were denied or lost a job because of their age, but the bar for proving discrimination is very high and the outcomes are uncertain. The bipartisan Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act makes it clear that unlawful discrimination in the workplace is unacceptable and holds employers accountable for discriminatory actions,” says Bonamici.

Adams, who chairs the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, joins Bonamici in cosponsoring POWADA.  The North Carolina Congresswoman states: “Labor law must protect the dignity of all workers and it must recognize that discrimination against older Americans is discrimination all the same,” says Adams, who chairs the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. The North Carolina Congresswoman notes that POWADA ensures that older workers will be fairly treated in the job market, returning the legal standard for proving discrimination back to its original intent. There is no place for disparate treatment based on age in the workforce.”

“Labor law must protect the dignity of all workers and it must recognize that discrimination against older Americans is discrimination all the same,” says Adams, who chairs the Subcommittee on Workforce. The North Carolina House Lawmaker says that POWADA ensures that older workers will be fairly treated in the job market, returning the legal standard for proving discrimination back to its original intent. There is no place for disparate treatment based on age in the workforce.

“The introduction of this bill is a crucial step to strengthening the law and restoring fairness for older workers who experience age discrimination,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive vice president and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer. “It sends a clear message that discrimination in the workplace – against older workers or others – is never acceptable.

“Age discrimination in the workplace, like any other kind of discrimination, is wrong.,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. That’s why AARP is fighting all forms of age discrimination in the hiring process and on the job, including an unfair court decision that makes age discrimination more difficult to prove than race- or sex-based discrimination. “Rhode Islanders are living and working longer and experienced workers bring expertise, maturity, and perspective,” Connell added. “Yet negative stereotypes and mistaken assumptions mean that older people are often treated unfairly in the workplace. We need bipartisan Congressional action to address this stubborn and persistent problem.”

Tackling Workforce Issues

Over two-hours, four witnesses testified at a joint Zoom hearing, “Fighting for Fairness: Examining Legislation to Confront Workplace Discrimination,” held before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services and the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. The morning hearing addressed an array of workforce issues including race and longstanding gender inequities and barriers and pregnancy discrimination at the workplace. A spotlight was also put on the rampant increase of age discrimination that older workers are now facing in the job market and the need to pass POWADA to reverse the detrimental impact of a 2009 Supreme Court decision.

Lauren McCann, senior attorney at AARP Foundation, pointed out to the attending House lawmakers that age discrimination in the workplace remains “stubbornly persistent” and urged a House Education and Labor hearing to “re-level the playing field” by passing strong anti-bias legislation.

McCann told the committee that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problems faced by older workers, who have left the labor force in the last year at twice the rate during the Great Recession.

McCann testified that passage of POWADA, sponsored by Scott, the Chair of the House Committee of Education and Labor, is crucial to reverse the 2009 Supreme Court decision in the Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc. case. McCann said that the high court’s 2009 decision abruptly changed the standard — from the longstanding requirement under the ADEA that a worker prove that age is just one motivating factor in adverse treatment on the job — to a much higher and tougher to prove standard: that age is the standard motive.

“Older workers now always bear the burden of persuasion in ADEA cases,” McCann emphasized.

According to McCann, House hearing comes at a time when older workers have been battered by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Unemployment for workers age 55 and older more than doubled between Feb. 2020, just before the pandemic began, and last month, based on AARP Public Policy Institute (PPI) analysis of federal data.

The number of age 55 and over unemployed has also doubled, up from one million in February 2020, to 2 million last month, according to PPI.

Turning to the Senate…

At press time, a senior Senate aide for Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging, says the Senator is posed to follow the House by throwing the Senate’s POWADA Senate companion measure into the legislative hopper Monday. 

The Pennsylvania Senator clearly understands why he again must push for the passage and enactment of POWADA.  “As more Americans are remaining in the workforce longer, we must recognize and address the challenges that aging workers face. We must make it clear to employers that age discrimination is unacceptable, and we must strengthen antidiscrimination protections that are being eroded,” says Sen. Casey. “POWADA would level the playing field for older workers and ensure they are able to fight back against age discrimination in the workplace.”

AARP Takes A Look at ‘Value of Experience’ of Older Workers

Published in the Woonsocket call on August 12, 2018

Given employers’ need for talent and experience, Oak Hill resident Henry Rosenthal, 67, with five decades in the workforce, readily agrees with AARP views that it’s a sound business decision to hire experienced workers, as supported by the findings of AARP’s recently released survey, The Value of Experience: AARP Multicultural Work and Jobs Study. The AARP report includes insights on workers, employers, and age bias, a hurtle Rosenthal had to overcome in finding reemployment after being unemployed for two years in his sixties.

AARP’s in-depth survey was conducted online in September 2017 to a national sample of 3,900 adults ages 45+ who were working full-time, part-time, or looking for work.

According to the results of AARP’s survey of experienced workers released on August 2, 2018, nearly 9 in 10 continue to work for financial reasons, but approximately 8 in 10 either enjoy or feel useful doing their job. And among those who plan to retire, over 1 in 4 plans to start a business or earn money in some independent way, including freelancing and contract work, teaching others, selling hand-made goods, and providing home services such as house cleaning and cooking.

“With rich work histories, varied experiences and expertise, older workers want to work, they’re ready to work, and they need to work,” said AARP Vice President of Financial Resilience Susan Weinstock. “More employers are looking for qualified candidates and experienced workers should have the opportunity to be judged on their merits, rather than their age,” says Weinstock.

To highlight job opportunities among 50-plus workers, AARP launched an employer pledge for companies who hire workers based on ability, regardless of age. Since 2013, 650 employers have signed AARP’s pledge. AARP also continues to educate employers about the value of older workforce and the positives of having multigenerational employees.

“According to government data [from the U.S Department of Labor Statistics,] workforce participation rates for older workers exceed participation before the Great Recession, while younger worker participation is below pre-recession numbers,” added Weinstock. “While employment trends for older workers are favorable, with 27.9% of 55-plus workers suffering long-term unemployment compared to 18.1 percent of 16-54 workers, the long-term unemployment disparity suggests that entrenched age-bias still exist too often in the workplace,” she says.

Age discrimination Still Around

Findings from AARP’s survey, The Value of Experience, show that many experienced workers still face the barrier of age discrimination in their job hunt or at their place of employment. More than 9 in 10 workers see age discrimination as somewhat or a very common occurrence.

Specifically, the AARP survey found that at work, more than 6 in 10 older workers (61 percent) report they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, and of those concerned about losing their job in the next year, one-third (34 percent) list age discrimination as either a major or minor reason. But only 3 percent of the survey respondents say that they had made a formal complaint to their supervisor, to Human Resources or a government agency

Age discrimination becomes more noticeable to those turning age 50 and over. Fifty four percent of those surveyed believe that age discrimination starts on that major age milestone, 28 percent at age 60. Ageist comments from either a boss or coworker are the most visibly frequent type of discrimination reported by the survey respondents.

According to the AARP survey, both employed workers and those who were unemployed looking for work viewed age discrimination as the key reason why they did not think they could find employment within three months.

On the job hunt, almost half (44 percent) of older job applicants say they have been asked for age-related information, such as birth date and graduation date, from a potential employer.

Over 90% of older Americans surveyed by AARP supported strengthening the nation’s age discrimination laws— nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) strongly support a change and 32 percent somewhat agree they should be improved.

With 2017 marking the 50th Anniversary of the nation’s Age Discrimination Act of 1967, AARP’s new survey findings are timely as America’s workforce is aging and an increasing number of older workers report their age keeps them from becoming gainfully employed or underemployed.

A Personal Note:

Looking back, Rosenthal, says of his two-year job search, in 2015 after being laid off, he experienced age discrimination. “Having been interviewed by numerous Human Resource professionals, they just seem incapable of understanding that the years of experience someone has gained is an asset. They seem unable to appreciate that knowledge, experience, and even skills acquired over a lifetime can be transferred and used in virtually any organization or business,” he says.

Rosenthal says, “there is a higher probability of age discrimination occurring when company management, human resource professionals, and recruiters interview applicants older than themselves.” Like many older job seekers, he believes that decision-making executives are uncomfortable with overseeing older workers and rather than deal with them, they don’t just hire them.

Rosenthal, now gainfully “under employed,” views his older contemporaries as being “more stable, reliable, have better work ethics and generally make great employees, in line with AARP’s philosophy that Corporate America should value the experience of older workers. With the difficulty in finding employment Rosenthal believes that companies have not figured this out yet. “What a terrible waste of human capital,” he says.

AARP says its survey findings reveal that “older workers believe that age discrimination should be taken just a seriously as other forms of discrimination, and support strengthening the laws to ensure that it is.”

But, Rosenthal says that while combating age discrimination by strengthening the laws, real change can only occur by changing “our cultural attitudes.” Other cultures value their elders but here in America’s we don’t,” he says.

For a copy of AARP survey findings, go to http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/econ/2018/value-of-experience-chartbook.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00177.003.pdf.

Older Americans Impacting the Economy

Published in Woonsocket Call on September 25, 2016

Sometime in your life you might have heard this comment — older people are a drain on the economy. A newly released AARP report shatters this myth once and for all by detailing a rise in spending and workforce contributions of aging baby boomers.

AARP’s 28 page report, The Longevity Economy: How People Over 50 Are Driving Economic and Social Value in the US, takes a hard look at how our nation’s population of 111 million 50-plus consumers impacts the economy.

According to this report, released on September 20, the 50-plus age groups generates a whopping $7.6 trillion in economic activity (a $500 billion increase from 2013), including $5 trillion in consumer spending by people 50-plus. The researchers say the increases reflects the nation’s shifting demographic and spending patterns of this group due to longer life spans and prolonged employment.

Older Adults a Powerful Economic Force

The 50-plus cohort represents a powerful force that drives economic activity and the growth of this age group and has a transformative impact on the nation’s products and services.

According to the report, produced by Oxford Economics for AARP, members of the Longevity Economy are employed longer and making contributions within the workforce. In addition, the economic activity that comprises the Longevity Economy generates $1.8 trillion in federal, state and local taxes. As older people extend their work lives, they are fueling economic growth past the traditional retirement age of 65 as well as combating myths about how aging affects the economy.

“As the 50-plus demographic continues to grow, the market opportunities are too large to ignore,” said Jody Holtzman, senior vice president of market innovation, AARP. “With those in the ‘longevity economy’ wanting to maintain independence, employment and health for as long as possible, opportunities abound for companies to develop products and services to meet the demand. This report offers a strong roadmap for companies to address the needs of the 50-plus population.”

Look for the nation’s Longevity Economy to be more ethnically diverse. The report notes that by 2050, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other non-white groups will make up 45 percent of the 50-plus population, compared with 26 percent in 2015. Demographic changes will influence the types of goods and services that the 50-plus population consumes and invests in, say the researchers.

Aging baby boomers and seniors will be a “contributing force” in the workplace and heavily into entrepreneurship. The report’s findings indicated that people age 50-plus are working longer, earning wages, spending more money, generating tax revenue, and producing economic value for an extended period of time. Those aged 55-64 have had the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity in the nation and over the last 10 years and one in three US businesses in that timeframe was started by an entrepreneur aged 50 or older.

The report’s findings pierces the long-held stereotypes that as one ages they become less productive, not as quick and agile when compared to younger employees. Researchers say while these observations may be true in some occupations, however, the report’s data suggests that in many instances productivity may increase in your later years. This may occur because older workers who are more highly educated are employed in more knowledge-based professions and less physically active ones.

Researchers observed that the Longevity Economy supported job sustainability. The AARP report found that in 2015 alone, nationwide spending by people aged 50 supported more than 89.4 million jobs and more than $4.7 trillion in the nation’s labor income — 61 percent of all U.S. jobs and 43 percent of labor income was related to this groups’ spending, impacting health services and education.

Meanwhile, the AARP report notes that The 50-plus population has a strong desire to stay independent and active while they age, resulting in businesses developing new technologies – such as remote monitoring, smartphone apps and ambient computing – that cater to them.

Finally, the AARP report found that baby boomers are not stingy. They donate at a larger rate than younger generations, with 80 percent of those 65-plus giving to charity in 2015. When not working boomers spend a lot of their time volunteering, too – individuals 55-64 spend 128 hours per year while those 65-plus spend 133 hours per year. In addition, 83 percent of the nation’s household wealth is held by those over 50 years old, say researchers.

In the Ocean State…

“In Rhode Island, we know that the 50+ population is an economic driver,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “On the younger end, the demographic represents key leaders in business, education and government. Sometimes it seems as if the ‘young innovators’ get all the press, but this core of established, successful and still quite energetic Rhode Islanders is undeniable. At the other end of the spectrum, $2.9 billion dollars in Social Security benefits are paid out to Rhode Islanders and a large portion of that spending is here in the state. Total economic output is estimated at $4.98 billion. People also would be surprised to know that Rhode Islanders 65 and older comprise 18 percent of the workforce.

“They are caregivers and philanthropists as well,” Connell added. “And their volunteer service is valued at $148 million a year. However, this is not to deny that many older people have real and pressing needs. That will grow as a percentage of the state’s population and we need to plan for those realities.

“Younger entrepreneurs are important to the state’s future,” Connell concluded. “But the brightest, in my opinion, recognize the 50+ population as both a market and a resource. Many are tapping the generation that came before them as an advantage as they grow their own successes. We want to see more of that. It’s a win-win we can’t pass up.”

It is no surprise to economist Ed Mazze that consumers age 50-plus are the most important demographic group for businesses to target. He says there are over 120 million people in this group (the baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964) and the Silent Generation (born from 1925 through 1945).

Mazze, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island, notes that boomers are willing to spend on technology, use social media, purchase online and represent a good market for many luxury products. “Many new products have been created for the Silent Generation in areas of food and pharmaceuticals and other products have been redesigned and reengineered such as appliances, automobiles and furniture for ease of operation,” he says.

“There are many in both markets still willing to pay full price for the products and services they buy if they feel they are getting full value for these purchases. These are two important consumer market segments that should not be neglected,” adds Mazze.