Monday, April 13, 2009

In the News, part one

I don't have a computer or internet access at home, so every morning I get to work about a half hour early so I can have time to check my email & read up on the news before I start the day. Normally I watch "Meet the Press" or buy a $1 copy of the AJC on Sunday mornings & catch up on the weekend's news that way, but since yesterday was Easter, I was really out of touch with what's been going on by the time I got to work this morning. In addition to learning how to standoff with the pirates off the coast of Somalia ended (one word: Whoa!), there were two articles that pertained to 9to5 that drew my attention...

The first was on the New York Times website: a debate about how older workers are faring in the current economy. Men and women working for a variety of organizations, in varying fields, and with perspectives and opinions across the spectrum weighed in on issues such as age discrimination, healthcare coverage, and equal pay. Time and time again, as I was reading the article, I thought, "that's wrong!" or "but that's unfair!" or "that's illegal!" I was disappointed by the absence of an opinion that defended older workers and that supports legislation currently in place to protect them from discrimination in the workplace.

Want to read the article? It's available online here.

And so, I think this would be a good time to have a discussion about the rights of older workers.

In the article, Alicia Munnell, a professor at Boston College, says: "If we had data on quit rates — which we don’t — I bet the rate for older workers has dropped sharply. And long tenure and anti-discrimination laws make it hard to fire older workers. But older workers without jobs are a different story. No law can really prevent the 'not hiring' of older workers."

Not true. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects workers over the age of 40 from being discriminated against in any employment decisions. This means that older workers cannot be fired because of their age, but the ADEA also prohibits age discrimination in hiring, promotion, wages, and health care coverage, among many other things. So, anti-discrimination laws protect older workers from being fired because of their age, but it also protects them from not being hired in the first place because of their age.

Then, Laurence Kotlikoff goes so far as to suggest that "employers should simply pay you less with age." He thinks we should "modify the Age Discrimination Act by establishing a national age-productivity reference profile that employers can use to defend pay cuts they feel they need to impose on their older workers..."

Seriously?! This proposed "national age-productivity reference profile" completely defeats the purpose of the ADEA. It's a sadly common misconception that as a worker ages, they become less productive. This is untrue -- and an idea like Kotlikoff's simply adds fuel to this fire. Not to mention, it encourages unfair profiling. Older Americans have a right to work -- and to earn a fair wage -- just as much as younger members of the workforce.

So, what do you think?

Are you an older worker? If so, have you experienced discrimination in hiring or wages or firing... or in any other way? Have you heard people express opinions like the ones above? How do you respond? I'm curious. Let's continue the discussion the New York Times started...

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