OK for Feds to Discriminate on Basis of Age

Unemployed older workers today are facing an unprecedented crisis. They are out of work at least twice as long as other workers. Many never find jobs and are forced to spend down their savings until they can retire, whereupon they receive reduced Social Security benefits for the rest of their lives.

So why would the United States  government blatantly discriminate against older workers in federal hiring?

A reader recently forwarded to  my attention a job recruitment  notice from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  The job advertisement seeks “recent graduates” to fill  numerous “asylum officer” positions in Houston, TX, that pay from $53,496 to $84,139 per year.  Applicants must have earned a degree –  ranging from a vocational/technical degree to a professional or doctorate degree –   within the previous two years.

My first thought was is this even legal?  “Recent graduate” is a not very subtle code word for “younger worker.”  The vast majority of recent graduates are under the age of 40.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) supposedly protects workers aged 40 and over from age discrimination. It is almost inconceivable that there is a bona fide occupational qualification under the ADEA that would justify limiting asylum officer jobs to young people.  The job involves reviewing asylum applications at a desk in an office building.

I can now report that the  governments discriminatory hiring policy is perfectly legal under Executive Order 13562 , which was signed by President Barack Obama on December 27, 2010.  This order directed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to implement the “Pathways – Recent Graduates” program  throughout the federal government. The order is based on the premise that the federal government is at a  “competitive disadvantage compared to other sectors in recruiting and hiring students and recent graduates.”

There’s no competitive disadvantage in hiring older workers – neither the federal government nor the private sector wants  to hire them.

Nearly 2 million people ages 55 and older are looking for a job these days, twice as many as before the Great Recession.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says it takes the average older worker 55 weeks to find a job, compared with 35 weeks for those ages 25 to 34.  However, many older workers disappear from statistical tables altogether because they exhaust all unemployment benefits. 

More than a third (33 percent) of Americans who are retired said they did not feel they had a choice except to retire, according to a 2013 survey by the Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs. Of these, 54 percent of retirees under age 65 felt they had no choice but to retire.  Forced early retirement means the older worker will receive significantly  lower monthly Social Security benefits for the rest of his or her life..

Four in 10 job seekers ages 50 and older say they need the money, according to the Associated Press-NORC survey.

The federal government has done virtually nothing to help older workers escape from their unemployment abyss. So it may be understandable if older workers resent federal job postings for vacancies that exclude  them from applying for decent paying jobs on the basis of age. On Sunday, there were about 120 Pathway recent graduate advertisements on USAJobs, which is the federal government’s recruiting site.  Many of those advertisements involved numerous job vacancies and all of them pay respectable salaries.

* NOTE: I’m writing a book about age discrimination and I would like to hear your story if you’ve experience the problem.  Please email me at barnespatg (at) gmail.com.