older man with tie pulled upThere's a surge in older workers — numbers indicate that just inFlorida, statewide in 2013 there were 233,000 women 65 years andover who were working; in 2017, that jumped to 316,000 — many areretirees who didn't expect to have to come back to work. Enterageism. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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It's getting tougher for older workers, with many finding thatthey can't retire—or retire as fully—as they might want to, thanksto inadequate retirement savings, lack of pensions or high levelsof debt thanks to medical bills, student loans or other financialobligations.

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According to a report in Next Avenue, age discrimination byemployers is common both for jobseekers and workers trying to stayin the workplace. And an AARP survey finds that, among people age45 and older working full- or part-time or looking for work, “morethan nine in 10 older workers see age discrimination ascommon.”

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Not only that, but 61 percent of respondents say they'vepersonally seen or experienced it, with women more likely to havebeen witness to it or in the crosshairs themselves.

Ageism and ageism plus racism

And it's worse for people of color; while 59 percent of whitesreported seeing or experiencing age discrimination, 60 percent ofLatinos and more than three quarters of African-Americanrespondents have come up against it.

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And even though older workers are increasingly seeking to rejoinor stay in the workplace, they're not being judged on merit butrather on age, the report says. If they lose a job, it's tougher tofind another; if they have a job, it's getting tougher to keepit.

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This comes at a time when more older workers are looking forwork, according to a report from ABC News, older women inparticular.

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According to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, thereare several reasons for the surge in older workers—numbers indicatethat just in Florida, statewide in 2013 there were 233,000 women 65years and over who were working; in 2017, that jumped to316,000—many are retirees who didn't expect to have to come back towork.

Ageism in the workplace

Survey results indicate that older job applicants areincreasingly turned away. In fact, it says, since turning 40, ashocking 30 percent of respondents have come up against one or moreof six ageist problems in the workplace, with 17 percent beingsubjected to two or more:

  • not getting hired because of their age
  • hearing negative age-related remarks about themselves from acolleague
  • passed over for advancement because of age
  • hearing negative age-related remarks about themselves from asupervisor
  • being laid off, fired or forced out of job because of theirage
  • being denied access to training or professional developmentopportunities because of age

Close to half—44 percent—of respondents who've applied for a newposition in the past two years said they were asked for age-relatedinformation such as birth dates and graduation years. That kind ofinformation makes it easy to screen out older applicants, and whenemployers ask for it older workers hesitate to even apply,according to AARP.

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About a third of older workers fear not being able to find a newjob if they lose the one they have, and nearly half of them pointto age discrimination as the reason.

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And they're not wrong; government data, says the report, show“that nearly one third of workers 55 and older who lose their jobsare unemployed a financially dangerous six months or more. Bycontrast, just 18 percent of those ages 16 to 54 are out of worksimilar periods.”

Watered-down law

And they don't think they'll get much, if any, backup if theypursue a discrimination case; just three percent said they'dconsider filing a formal complaint with an employer or governmentagency.

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Again, they're not wrong; although the original AgeDiscrimination in Employment Act offered similar protections tothose for gender, religion or national origin, the report says, thelaw “has been weakened over time by a series of court rulings thathave narrowed the law's scope and sharply increased what's requiredto prove a case.”

Threat of automation

And there's one more potential obstacle to older workers'presence in the workplace: automation.

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While it could be an aid to such workers, taking over thephysical demands of some jobs, it could just as easily replace manywho would otherwise be able to find much-needed employment.

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According to 24/7 Wall Street, a new study from Marsh &McLennan indicates that there's a demographic shift underway, withthe working-age (15–64) population shrinking and the number ofelderly (65 and older) rising. By 2030 the elderly population in 15countries will be notably higher: more than 10 percent higher inSouth Korea and Singapore, about 7.5 percent higher in China andabout 6 percent higher in the U.S.

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And with this demographic shift going on, there will be a lotmore elderly looking for work or remaining in the workplace—as longas automation serves as an assist rather than driving them out.

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The study finds that an aging workforce forces companies morequickly to adopt more automation. The data indicate that 40 percentof the variation among countries in the adoption of industrialrobots is explained by age alone.

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Says the report, “Marsh & McLennan devised aweighted-average score that expresses the automation risk for olderworkers. In countries where workers perform tasks that can bereasonably easily automated, the risk score is high; in countrieswhere higher-skilled work is more common, the risk score islower.”

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The risk score in the U.S. was fortunately not among the highestof the 15 countries studied, but that's not really a reason tocheer; it has the sixth lowest score.

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The study concludes, “Welfare spending, industrial shifts,financial support, and training and education will be key topreventing the widespread displacement of older workers. Withoutthe proper interventions, societies stand to face serious falloutsas a result of these trends. Un- and underemployment, wideninginequality, and severe talent shortages will worsen in countrieswhere older workers are not properly incorporated into firms'digitization and automation strategies.”

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.