Tom T. had expected to retire at age 65. However, having reached that landmark, he discovered that he could not live on his Social Security alone. Furthermore, his savings were inadequate to supplement that income sufficiently to maintain his lifestyle. Tom decided he would seek a part-time job. His 35-year-old son had recently obtained a coveted engineering job with an online job search. Taking that cue, Tom hit his computer to look for employment in his field of sales. After a few weeks with no callbacks from applications he had made, he became discouraged.
Online job hunting can make it easier for older workers to seek employment. Some sites provide categories especially designated for seniors. These can be extremely helpful as long as age bias, such as that described above, is not built into the site’s software.
Although it is illegal for an employer to ask an applicant’s age, Tom found that some sites in his online search had indirect age restrictions. For instance, a drop-down menu for the years attending college for one site stopped at 1980. Other sites used 1970 as the cut-off. Tom, who had graduated from college in 1968, was left out of the running.
The San Francisco Reserve Bank conducted research using fictional resumes of “workers” over age 65. The research listed various job categories, from sales to administration to sanitation. Jobs offerings covered eleven states. Throughout, age bias was found. Significantly, the results revealed that older workers applying for jobs were 30 percent less likely to be contacted after applying.
Tom’s searches eventually led him to RetirementJobs.com. This site certified some employers as "age-friendly." According to All Things Considered on National Public Radio (NPR) last year, an employer on RetirementJobs.com is awarded the age-friendly designation only after its staff has investigated the company's practices and culture. On the program, RetirementJobs.com’s CEO, Tom Driver, claimed over 100 American employers, including Fidelity and Wells Fargo, and certain government organizations like TSA and the Veterans Administration, have been dubbed “age-friendly.”
RetirementJobs.com allows users to leave comments on their experiences with companies listed on the site. Many are positive. However, according to the All Things Considered airing, dozens of comments complaining of companies forcing out older workers in favor of younger ones appear, along with the five star reviews of companies that respect older workers.
Current policies to combat age discrimination rely primarily on private litigation for enforcement of age discrimination laws. Frequently, that private litigation is out of reach to the average worker due to expense. These policies are ineffective at reducing age discrimination in hiring. Seniors should support candidates for office who will promote policies that would strengthen the curbs on this discrimination that has negative effects both for individuals and our economy as a whole.
Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.