Obama Forgot to Fight Age Discrimination

obama

“Obama will fight job discrimination for aging employees by strengthening the Age Discrimination in Employment Act … .”  Source: Blueprint for Change (2008)

I was surprised when I recently read that President Barack Obama pledged in 2008 to strengthen the nation’s primary law prohibiting age discrimination, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

Surprised because the ADEA is much weaker today than it was when Obama was running for President in 2008 . The ADEA was decimated by an adverse U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2009. Congress could have legislatively “fixed” the Court’s ruling but has failed to pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act for five years.  But I was most surprised because Obama himself is responsible for weakening the ADEA.

Obama signed an executive order in 2010 that allows federal agencies to discriminate against older workers by hiring “recent graduates” –  which is in direct contravention to the ADEA.  What message does it send to private employers when the U.S. government deems it appropriate to discriminate on the basis of age? Whether intended or not, Obama’s executive order serves as a green light for employers to engage in harmful, invidious age discrimination.

Meanwhile, Obama’s administration is in the process of planning a White House Conference on Aging this year . Organizers so far have completely ignored the unaddressed epidemic of age discrimination in the workplace that is catapulting older workers into chronic unemployment, low wage jobs and forced early “retirement.”

The Conference recently announced it is partnering with the AARP, the nation’s leading purveyor of supplemental Medicare health insurance, to co-sponsor five regional forums to hear from the public “on issues such as ensuring retirement security, promoting healthy aging, providing long-term services and support, and protecting older Americans from financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect.” Promote healthy aging?  Hmmm … Do you have supplemental Medicare health insurance?

Obama’s unfulfilled campaign promise points to yet another reason that the problem of age discrimination is so prevalent in America today. Older Americans have failed to effectively marshal their resources  to insure that their interests are not forgotten by politicians the day after the election.   In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama focused on young families and the middle class and failed to even mention issues of particular concern to older Americans,

In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I explore the reasons that age discrimination is treated like a lesser offense when compared with discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin.  I show that age discrimination is about perception, not reality.  It is about unfounded stereotypes and deep-seated animus. And it has a devastating impact on the health and welfare of older Americans.

 

 

Older Americans are Invisible in Obama’s Union

Obama

President Obama forgot something in his State of the Union address – the plight of older Americans.

He talked about a young couple who suffered through the recession but emerged victorious. He talked about middle class economics and helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change.  And all of that is good.  But he didn’t mention the other end of the spectrum, the millions of older Americans who are facing the specter of  poverty or near poverty in retirement.

Millions of Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers are facing an uncertain future. They don’t have the benefit of a traditional pension because private-sector defined benefit pensions were frozen or discontinued in the 1990s.  They were replaced with 401 (k) plans, which are financed by individual workers’ contributions. However, older workers could not save enough to finance a secure retirement in 401 (k) plans because of the recession and they don’t have enough time left in the workforce to rebound.  Meanwhile, they lost jobs,  investments, suffered housing foreclosures, and continue to face epidemic and unaddressed age discrimination in hiring.

Obama set forth a laudable program to establish paid family and sick leave, equal pay for women, two years of free community college, raising the minimum wage and helping veterans and military spouses find good jobs. All of these goals are worthy. But  the silence was deafening with respect to older Americans.

What about assuring older Americans that there will be no cuts in Social Security or Medicaid? How about pledging to address the problem of age discrimination in employment and promising that older Americans will share in the supposed new found prosperity?

In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I write about the impending retirement crisis facing millions of Americans, particularly women and minorities.

According to a 2013 study by Economic Policy Institute  many of America’s 41 million seniors are just one bad economic shock away from significant material hardship. According to the study:

  • Nearly half (48.0 percent) of the elderly population is “economically vulnerable,” defined as having an income that is less than two times the supplemental poverty threshold (a poverty line more comprehensive than the traditional federal poverty line).1 This equates to roughly 19.9 million economically vulnerable seniors.
  • The older elderly—people age 80 and older—have a far higher rate of economic vulnerability (58.1 percent) than people age 65 to 79 (44.4 percent).
  • Women are 10.7 percentage points more likely to fall below two times the supplemental poverty threshold than men (52.6 versus 41.9 percent)
  • The majority of elderly blacks and Hispanics are economically vulnerable: 63.5 percent of blacks and 70.1 percent of Hispanics, age 65 and older, have incomes less than two times the supplemental poverty threshold. In comparison, 43.8 percent of whites are economically vulnerable.

Meanwhile the Employment Benefit Research Institute’s Retirement Readiness Ratings estimates that 41 to 43 percent of Americans are at risk of running out of money in retirement. The EBRI is a private, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute based in Washington, DC, that focuses on health, savings, retirement, and economic security issues.

Obama’s State of the Union address is yet more evidence that older Americans are invisible in America today. No voice speaks on their behalf in the corridors of power and, as a result, their concerns appears to be ignored.

 

What would Martin Luther King say?

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Change and Workpace Discrimination

  •  Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.
  •  He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
  •  Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
  • I am not interested in power for power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.
  • Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.
  • The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.
  • When you are right you cannot be too radical …

Who Owns the Problem of Age Discrimination?

white house conference on aging

Part of the problem of age discrimination in the workplace is that nobody seems to claim ownership of it.

Folks who have already retired are very interested in the issue but it doesn’t affect them directly anymore, except to the extent that it contributes to health issues and poverty in retirement.

Younger workers don’t seem to comprehend that they are the ones who are most directly affected by age discrimination in the workplace. Of course, they are scrambling to survive and raise families in this precarious pro-business economy where workers generally have few rights.  In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I show that the problem of age discrimination is so prevalent in America today that it has become the new normal and is even affecting workers in their 30s. To some extent, lack of awareness is in the nature of youth.  As Aristotle said, “Youth is easily deceived, because it is quick to hope.”

The upcoming White House Conference on Aging has not shown any indication that it will address the epidemic of age discrimination in the workplace, a problem made incrementally worse in 2010 when President Barack Obama signed an executive order allowing federal agencies to discriminate against older workers and hire “recent graduates.”  The Conference issues page  identifies the following themes: healthy aging, long term services and supports, and elder justice (abuse and neglect).  Age discrimination  in employment is no-where mentioned.

My book  documents the inferior treatment accorded under the law to victims of age discrimination in employment. I show that the major federal law that prohibits age discrimination, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, was weak and riddled with loopholes when it was passed by Congress in 1967 and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Today, there are virtually no consequences for employers who engage in blatant age discrimination and many incentives to do so (e.g., cost-savings, youthful image).

Why have older workers have been second class citizens  under the law for fifty years? The AARP, which earned $1.34 billion last year selling insurance and travel products to older Americans, claims to be a champion of the rights of older Americans.  Is the AARP really so powerless that it cannot insure that older workers at least have the same protections and rights as other Americans?

The most recent major assault on the ADEA occurred in 2009 when the U.S. Supreme Court in Gross v. FBL Financial Services established a higher standard of proof in ADEA cases than exists under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin.  That year, a handful of progressive legislators proposed the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, which would legislatively “fix” the Gross decision. The POWADA has never made it out of committee.

Contact the White House Conference on Aging and urge conference director Nora Super to address the problem of age discrimination in the workplace. The conference email address is info@whaging.gov