To mark the law’s golden anniversary, the EEOC next week will hold a public meeting, “The ADEA @ 50 – More Relevant Than Ever.” According to the EEOC, “The meeting will explore the state of age discrimination in America today and the challenges it poses for the future.”
When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the ADEA into law on Dec. 15, 1967, he remarked as follows:
[A]lthough Americans are now living longer and enjoying better health than ever before, older workers were often barred from jobs that could be performed efficiently by workers of any age. …
[M]en and women who needed to work—who wanted to work—and who were able to work, were not being given a fair chance to work. …
In my message to Congress in January of this very year, I recommended the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Yesterday I signed that act.
Its basic purpose is to outlaw discrimination in employment against persons 40 to 65 [now 40 and over] years of age. …
This act … does require that one simple question be answered fairly:
Who has the best qualifications for the job?
Yet, as the ADEA approaches it’s 50th birthday, strong evidence exists that age discrimination is still a big problem in today’s workplace. EEOC charges alleging age discrimination peaked with the 2008 recession at over 24,000 charges, and still sit at a historically high level, with nearly 21,000 charges filed last year alone.
What are root causes of this permeation of age discrimination in today’s workplace? Forbes suggests two:
First, age discrimination is still pervasive when it comes to hiring older workers. This is the troubling frontier of age discrimination in the job market. Some labor market research by Joanna Lahey, an economist at the Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University—the Age, Women, and Hiring: An Experimental Study—is illuminating. Lahey sent out resumés to almost 4,000 firms in the Boston and St. Petersburg, Fla. areas in 2002 and 2003, focusing on women with work histories of 10 years or less who were applying for entry-level positions. The only difference in the resumés was age, which ranged from 35 to 62. Lahey discovered that applicants under 50 were 40% more likely to be called back for an interview than those over 50.
Second, stereotypes that peg older workers as low-productivity employees who are stuck in their ways remain infuriatingly durable. “One thing that always strikes me is social attitudes,” says David Neumark, economist and director of the Center for Economics & Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine. “People who would never make a racist or sexist joke will make an ageist joke without thinking about it. The social acceptability of that is remarkable.”
For these reasons, next week’s EEOC public meeting bears close watching to learn how the EEOC may start to tackle this issue. And, in the meantime, to paraphrase President Johnson, if you hire and retained the best qualified, this issue will, most often than not, take care of itself.
Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.