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Analysis: 56 Percent Of Workers Over 50 Are Laid Off, Pushed Out

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed in 1967. A Labor Department report leading to its passage noted that, at the time, half of all job ads in the private sector explicitly barred applications from people 55 or over. A quarter excluded anyone over 45.

The ADEA prohibits age discrimination against those 40 and over in any aspect of employment, from hiring, pay, benefits, working conditions and opportunities to layoffs and other terminations. It also prohibits using pretexts for age discrimination, such as targeting older workers for layoffs because they make higher salaries. Nevertheless, age discrimination continues to be a common complaint.

Last year, the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica revealed evidence that IBM had targeted older people when it cut over 200,000 U.S. employees. Those 40 and over made up 60 percent of the job cuts in an effort by IBM allegedly to "correct [its] seniority mix."

Now, ProPublica and the think tank the Urban Institute have found that IBM may not be an outlier. Age discrimination may be more widespread and damaging than anyone expected.

The groups analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which is funded by the Social Security Administration and the National Institutes of Health and administered by the University of Michigan. The HRS is widely considered the gold-standard source for quantitative information about aging in the U.S. Since 1992, HRS researchers have followed a nationally representative sample of approximately 20,000 people, surveying them as they turn 50 and for the rest of their lives.

A majority of older workers are losing jobs involuntarily

The analysis revealed that, through 2016, 56 percent of Americans over 50 experienced at least one layoff, were pushed into retirement, or felt forced to quit due to deteriorating working conditions. Of those, only 1 out of 10 will ever regain their former salaries.

Layoffs were the most common form of job separation, but others were significant:

  • 28 percent of even stable, long-term workers are laid off between age 50 and retirement. There were 20.7 million layoffs in the U.S. last year.
  • 13 percent of employees over 50 in long-term jobs unexpectedly retire under circumstances suggesting the retirement was involuntary. The ADEA requires retirement decisions to be "knowing and voluntary."
  • 15 percent of workers in stable jobs at 50 quit or left them after reporting to the HRS that their pay or working conditions had deteriorated.

This was largely true regardless of income, education, industry, geography, gender race and ethnicity.

The analysis suggests that many older workers are suffering job and financial losses that keep them from preparing for an adequate retirement. Have you ever experienced something you perceived as age discrimination?

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