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EEOC Hears Testimony on Older Workers' Struggles

This article accompanies When Junior's in Charge

Monday, February 7, 2011
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The plight of the older worker has gotten the attention of the federal government.

In a Nov. 17 meeting in Washington of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, testimony was heard from a number of experts on the impact of the economic crisis on older employees, the legal issues surrounding age discrimination today, and best practices for retaining older workers and reaping their benefits before they're lost for good.

William Spriggs, assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Labor, testified that the rate of unemployment for people age 55 and over "rose from a pre-recession low of 3 percent to reach 7.3 percent in August, 2010, making the past 22 months the longest spell of high unemployment workers in this age group have experienced in 60 years."

EEOC Commissioner Stuart J. Ishimaru said his agency "must be vigilant that employers do not use the current economy as an excuse for discrimination against older workers."

EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien cited the close-to-30-percent jumps in age-discrimination charges filed with her agency in 2008 and 2009 as proof that "negative stereotypes about older workers remain deeply entrenched [and include] unwarranted assumptions that older workers are more costly, harder to train, less adaptable, less motivated, less flexible, more resistant to change and less energetic than younger employees."

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As a result, Berrien said, "older persons with the same or similar qualifications typically receive lower ratings in interviews and performance appraisals than younger counterparts [and are also typically] rated as having less potential for development than younger workers." They're also laid off more frequently and remain unemployed for longer than younger counterparts, she added, referring to her agency's research.

Deborah Russell, director of workforce issues in AARP's Education and Outreach Department, testified that, "to stay competitive on a global scale, businesses must plan now to recruit, train and retain workers of all ages, just as they must plan for other elements of diversity."

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