Classism and Forced Retirement

PhilosopherAn ugly “class”  issue lurks beneath the argument that older workers should be forced out of the workplace so that younger workers can have their jobs.

The argument is often made by people who enjoy professional status, earn big bucks and look forward to comfortable pensions.  Not by ordinary working stiffs.

This is the case in a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal by two law school professors from the University of Chicago, Saul Levmore, who is around 63 years of age, and Martha Nussbaum, who is 70.

They claim, without citing any supporting data, that the productivity of workers declines after age 50. Performance may decline in some areas for some workers (i.e., quarterbacks and major league pitchers) but aging is individualistic and not uniform. Should we also assume that all women want to be mommies and all men can bench press 500 pounds?

They argue the law should allow employers and employees “to agree” on a retirement age at the start of a new job, so the workers can be terminated “after a certain age” without cause. Don’t they know that few, if any, workers would voluntarily agree to such an onerous contract term. That these contracts would be based on age discrimination and signed under duress.

Why would the Wall Street Journal shine its spotlight on an essay that fails to show any understanding for the plight of older workers or the reality of age discrimination in the workplace? Possibly because six corporations own 90 percent of the media today and these corporations engage in age discrimination.

Ironically, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 initially permitted colleges and universities to involuntarily retire tenured professors at age 65. How would Levmore and Nussbaum feel about being forced to hand their posh jobs over to deserving young PhDs?

 Nussbaum would have been put out to pasture five years ago and Levmore would be facing imminent unemployment if the ADEA had not been amended by Congress in 1998.

The owner of the Wall Street Journal is media magnate Rupurt Murdoch, who bought the paper in 2007, when he was about 79 years of age. He is now 86.  One wonders if he is confined to a rocking chair these days and can’t make out the tiny letters on the newspaper. Or does he think that only other workers should be forcibly retired.

The authors begin their essay by implying that well known  octogenarians – Warren Buffett, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clint Eastwood – are exception to the rule. What rule? Could it be the rule that two pampered law school professors who can’t be fired made up?

If Levmore and Nussbaum don’t want to leave the ivory tower, they could ask the older women who clean their offices every night why they are slopping floors and emptying trash cans instead of sipping margaritas in Key West.

Many older people work because they need the money to buy groceries and pay the rent. Some, like Levmore and Nussbaum, work because they want to.  But if they can do the job, why shouldn’t they? It is ageist to argue that older workers who are capable of doing the job should be forced out because they have reached a certain arbitrary age or because younger workers are more entitled to their job.


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