Ageism in the Workplace

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, writer Ashton Applewhite utilizes data from multiple sources to weave a narrative on ageism in the workplace. She asserts that age discrimination against older workers is a structural issue that has become increasingly visible in a time in which there are more individuals  working past traditional retirement ages than ever. According to the Bureau of Labor, 18.9% of Americans 65+ are still working. As shown in the graph below, this percentage has escalated slowly since 2000.
Data indicates that Baby Boomers are looking to work more than any of their predecessors for several reasons. One Federal Reserve study conducted in 2015 revealed that 27% of Americans responded that they plan to “keep working as long as possible” and 12% of Americans do not think they will ever retire.

According to “The Current State of Retirement,” 61% of those surveyed who retired later than they planned said their decisions were related to financial and employee benefits. Meanwhile, 44% said they wanted to remain active or simply found pleasure in work. Per a study conducted by the Government Accountability Office, 60% of Americans do not have savings in a 401(k)-style account or individual retirement account. Overall, 42% of American workers do not have the option to open a 401(k)-style account through their employers. Furthermore, the study found that the highest-earning quartile of workers are employed by employers who are 400% more likely to offer retirement plans compared to employers of those with lower earnings.

And while the demand for employment opportunities for older Americans has increased due to delayed retirement, there are more than 1.5 million Americans over the age of fifty who are unable to secure employment, according to the BLS. In a 2016 survey by AARP, 25% of those in the 60-74 age bracket said they “have not been hired for a job due to their age;” 17% of those ages 45-59 responded the same way.

It should be noted that while Applewhite pulls from a variety of respectable sources, they refer to different data sources which utilize different age-groupings. Also, the level of data utilized is not disaggregated by race or geography.

Nevertheless, Applewhite provokes serious discussion points of how older members in American society are viewed and valued. As she mentions in her closing thoughts, assumptions are made about the productivity of Millennials and Baby Boomers alike and evaluating age bias is something we must do collectively in order to minimize its tangible effects.
Bithia Ratnasamy

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