Older Workers Facing Age Discrimination

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
October 27, 2009

Many older job seekers forced to return to work after retirement are finding that their age is unfairly preventing them from being hired.

"I often get told that I'm overqualified," said Barbara Brooks, 71, who retired in 2003 after working 30 years as an administrative assistant and is currently searching for a job to help pay for her basic living expenses. She told The New York Times that she believed being overqualified actually means "you're too old."

"I would like to be able to treat myself to a couple of dinners, maybe a movie," she said. "I think as long as people have excellent skills, and they can get around like a 40-year-old--I've been told I look 40 or 50--why shouldn't I work?"

Similarly, Michael Husar, 62, a Scottsdale, Arizona resident and former manager with two engineering degrees, has not been able to find consulting work in recent months. "There are two reasons I feel a need to continue working," he said. "One, I still have a lot to offer, and two, I need the money."

Bloomberg reports that according to the Labor Department, there are almost 2 million unemployed workers over 55, the highest level since the age began tracking such statistics in 1948. Meanwhile, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that almost 25,000 age-discrimination claims were filed in 2008--an increase of 30 percent from 2007.

Sharon E. Davis, president of SeDA Consulting Inc. in Michigan, told The Detroit News that the increase in complaints is not surprising and is partly due to a combination of an aging population and a down economy. "There's going to be increased competition," she noted. "With the state economy, when things get tough, companies look for ways to reduce costs. The longer the person stays in an operation, the more they cost."

Nevertheless, Democrats introduced legislation earlier this month which would make it easier for employees to prove age discrimination in court against employers. The measure would reverse a recent Supreme Court decision requiring employees to prove that age was the deciding reason for an employment decision rather than other factors such as cost savings or performance. Consequently, employers would have to prove they complied with the age discrimination law.

"As our economy continues to struggle, older Americans are being hit hard," explained Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, one of the bill's sponsors, who was quoted by Bloomberg. "Discrimination cases rarely involve a smoking gun."

Representative George Miller, a California Democrat who is sponsoring the bill in the House, agreed. "In this economy, they are the first to go, and the last to be rehired," he noted. He said that if older Americans lose their jobs, they should know that "it is on the merits, and not based on prejudice."

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