The US is Inexplicably Backwards about Age Discrimination in Employment

As an American, it is frustrating to read about the steps that Great Britain is taking to attack age discrimination in employment.

The British government is actively working to address the problem because it considers age discrimination a threat to future economic growth. The UK  estimates that if everyone in the UK worked just one year longer, the country’s gross domestic product would increase by one percent.

By contrast, every branch of the US government has made the problem of age discrimination in employment much worse in recent years.

The executive branch since 2012 has actively engaged in age discrimination and the EEOC, which supposedly enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, either  ignored the problem or treats it dismissively.  Meanwhile, the Social Security Administration penalizes workers between age 62 and normal retirement age who collect benefits and continue to earn significant employment income.

The federal judiciary over the years eviscerated the already weak ADEA, making it much more difficult to win an age discrimination lawsuit, and the legislative branch, the U.S. Congress, has done nothing to fix the damage.

While America was backpedaling,  Britain in 2015 created a special team led by a government official who is  called the  Business Champion for Older Workers. The team works to help  employers to retain, retrain and recruit older workers.

The current Business Champion for Older Workers is Andy Briggs,  the chief executive officer of Aviva UK Life, a  multinational insurance company headquartered in London that has about 33 million customers in 16 countries.

Briggs challenged UK companies a year ago to increase the number of employees aged 50 to 69 on their payrolls from nine million to more than 10 million by 2022. That’s a 12 percent increase.  To encourage transparency and progress, Briggs asked every UK employer to publish the number and percentage of older workers in their workforce. Several major UK corporations heeded Brigg’s call, including his own Aviva and Barclays Bank. About 19 percent of Aviva’s 16,000 UK employees and 16 percent of Barclay’s workers are over the age of 50.

The United States has done little to acknowledge demographic shifts that will affect American productivity in the years ahead.

Why is the US so backward about age discrimination? It’s hard to pin down the impact of age discrimination in the US because very little research has been done on the topic. But we do know that age bias drives older workers out of the workforce and age discrimination in hiring relegates older workers to low-paid part-time and temp jobs.  This makes little sense when  society needs the  “wisdom capital” (i.e. experience and knowledge) of older workers.

By the year 2050, the U.S. population aged 65 and over is projected to be 83.7 million Americans, which is nearly double the estimate of 43.1 million in 2012.