Progress? Obama Acknowledges the “Elderly”

ObamaOnce again, President Barack H. Obama, in his 2016 State of the Union address, describes an America that is populated by “hard-working families,” immigrants and select  minorities.

But at least this year older Americans were not entirely invisible. He made two fleeting references to older Americans, which is two more than he made in his 2015 address.

Pres. Obama, 54, said Social Security and Medicare are “more important than ever. We shouldn’t weaken them. We should strengthen them.” (Unfortunately, he didn’t say what, if anything, he would do to accomplish this goals.)

And Pres. Obama applauded the “elderly” woman who waits in line to cast a vote as long as she has to.

FYI, Pres. Obama – the term ‘elderly’  is  frowned upon today as a descriptor for older Americans because it evokes images of frailty, sickness and decline. The term reflects underlying attitudes about aging that are stereotypical and negative. “Elderly” certainly doesn’t describe the millions of older Americans (like you!) who are vital, energetic and very much engaged in life. The International Longevity Center advises journalists to use the term “older adult”  to describe Americans over the age of 50. Good advice.

Obama completely ignored older Americans last year, which was not entirely surprising given that he has ignored older Americans for the past seven  years.

The Obama administration has not represented a period of enlightenment regarding older Americans.  Obama is the first American president, at least in modern times, to actually endorse age discrimination in hiring.  Obama promised in 2009 to work to strengthen the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1964. Not only didn’t he do that but he signed an executive order in 2010 that permits federal agencies to bypass older workers and hire recent graduates.  Moreover, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez supported a private initiative last year by America’s largest corporations to provide jobs to 100,000 inner city “youth” aged 16 to 24, despite the fact that using age as a factor in hiring violates the plain language of the ADEA.  Until Obama was elected,  federal policy supported  job training programs and internships to bolster employment for youth and minorities.

It was Obama’s last State of the Union address. He can take credit for many accomplishments in office but he didn’t do a dang thing for older Americans, many of whom lost jobs, investments and homes in the 2008 recession and have struggled for years with chronic unemployment due to epidemic age discrimination in hiring. The Economic Policy Institute reported in 2013 that about half of Americans aged 65 and older are either in poverty or at risk of poverty.The highest rates of poverty among older Americans are suffered by women  and minorities.

U.S. Gov: Older Workers Need Not Apply

Why is the federal government engaging in systemic, blatant age discrimination in hiring?

President Barack H. Obama signed an Executive Order 13562  in 2010 that allows federal agencies to bypass older workers and hire “recent graduates.”  The highly-questionable justification for the “Pathways Program” was that the federal government was at a competitive disadvantage in hiring promising young workers during the worst economic downturn in 100 years. Really?  Moreover, Obama claimed he was acting in the pursuit of a “diverse workforce that includes students and recent graduates, who infuse the workplace with their enthusiasm, talents, and unique perspectives.”  Does that mean older workers  infuse the workplace with lack of enthusiasm, no talent and mediocrity?

The Pathways Program, which went into effect in the summer of 2013, violates the plain language of the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Under the ADEA, it is illegal for an employer – any employer – to use age as a consideration in the hiring process.   The “recent graduates” program is open to applicants who have completed a qualifying post-high school educational program (e.g., technical or vocational school; two-or-four year college or university; graduate or professional school) within the preceding two years.  The overwhelming majority of “recent graduates” are under the age of 30.

The Pathways Program clearly discriminates against older workers, including workers over the age of 40 who fall under the umbrellas of the ADEA.   The ADEA states:

  • Employers cannot fail or refuse to hire any individual “because of such individual’s age,” and/or
  • Print and publish “any notice or advertisement relating to employment … indicating any preference, limitation, specification, or discrimination, based on age.”

There is no question that unemployment is a serious problem for younger workers but unemployment also is a serious problem for older workers. The latter are disproportionately represented in the ranks of  long-term unemployed and   often are forced into an ill-advised and penurious early retirement because they can’t find decent work due to age discrimination.    Solving the unemployment problem for younger workers on the backs of older workers represents appalling public policy and is a disgraceful throwback to pre-ADEA days when employment ads regularly specified age cut-offs.

In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I argue that age discrimination has become normalized in society as a result of the failure of the ADEA and is trickling down to workers who were once considered young.  It is entirely foreseeable under the Pathways “recent graduates” program that a 35-or -40 year-old with excellent qualifications could lose a job to a 25-year-old recent college graduate with no qualifications.  Almost fifty years after the passage of the ADEA, America has come full circle.

The Pathways Program is a testament to hypocrisy and breeds disrespect for the law.  If the federal  government won’t follow the ADEA, why should private sector employers?

The late gerontologist Robert N. Butler, the founding director of the National Institute on Aging who coined the term “ageism,”  wrote, “The tragedy of old age is not the fact that each of us must grow old and die but that the process of doing so has been made unnecessarily and at times excruciatingly painful, humiliating, debilitating and isolating through insensitivity, ignorance and poverty.”

Workplace Bullying: America Lags Behind

It is a disgrace that America is one of the only industrialized countries in the world that tolerates workplace bullying.

Please sign a petition asking the Obama administration to formulate a national strategy to halt workplace bullying. The petition, created by a coalition of workplace anti-bully advocates (including this blog), can be found at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/protect-us-workers/.

Among other countries, America lags behind the 32 members and participating states of the European Union that voted in 2007 to require all employers to address and prevent workplace bullying.  Sweden acted in 1993!

The World Health Organization calls workplace bullying a major public health problem.  There is overwhelming research showing that targets of workplace bullying may suffer a variety of long-and short-term mental and physical health problems. A high level of stress in the workplace is linked to chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease.

If you happen to be the one-in-four American workers who are afflicted with bullying, you will quickly find that no federal or state law exists to protect you.  Sure, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 requires employers to provide all workers with a safe workplace but the OSH Act is not enforced with respect to workplace bulling. Even if you can shoehorn your complaint into an existing law, it will be an expensive, long, uphill battle.  You may also find that the American judiciary is not knowledgeable or sympathetic to the plight of workers.

Surveys show that most targets of bullying are either forced to quit or resign.

In a little more than two weeks, about 7,000 people have signed the petition. Surely this is evidence of the overwhelming nature of this problem, especially in our current dire economy, with an aging workforce that cannot afford to quit or retire. When you sign the petition, an email is dispatched to both the White House and to the Labor Secretary.

Here are some recent comments from the petition:

  •  Workplace bullying has to end! My diabetic dad is too afraid to speak out against his coworker and boss who are creating a severe hostile work environment for fear of losing his job. This epidemic has to stop.
  • Workers who bully are unprofessional and immature and psychologically disturbed, and contribute to health problems in their targets and increased absenteeism and med costs. Remove the bullies, the work environment should be on a professional par with other industrialized countries, and not a playpen or a refuge for sociopaths.
  •  I too was bullied by a supervisor, who was a bully while in school. He would snark at me, make fun of my work if my way of performing the task was different than how he envisioned (my way was more time-efficient even), roll his eyes at my comments, and such. Once when he was asking me for some personal info I finally told him, ‘why would I give a bully additional info to use against me?’ I had lots of hair loss, high blood pressure, unsettling dreams leading to unsettled sleep patterns, and felt tired all the time. I did finally make it to retirement, whew, and it took 6-10 months for my body to realign from all the stress.
  •  I had loved my job and the people I worked for and with; but after seeing my boss bully and harass employees until they quit or are fired; it suddenly became my turn. i could not understand why a guy that i gave everything to 12- 15 hours a day, would harass me and call me names to the point where I would be hospitalized several times for severe anxiety disorder, and have to live with it and medication. all caused by one man that felt that with power and riches he can ruin anyone’s life he chooses.
  •  Bullies aren’t found only in the schools. Some graduate to become workplace bullies. Just because they are chronologically adult doesn’t guarantee they will act responsibly. Please act to protect working Americans.