Just last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly 261-155 to support older workers who have been overlooked or pushed out the backdoor because of their age.
Today, if you ask employers their opinion of older Americans on their payroll, they will typically give a glowing response. However, the trend since the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision to rollback older worker protections has been slightly out of kilter toward older adults. H.R. 1230 the “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act” attempts to repair the challenges that some of our seniors are experiencing.
An interesting question was asked in a 2018 study by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, whether employers are supportive of employees working past the age of 65. Surprisingly, 82% said their company is supportive. However, there appears to be a some sort of disconnect with a mere 72% of workers agreeing their employer supports them.
The study did report numbers that I found extremely positive for older American workers. The vast majority of older workers and employers found one or more positive perceptions of workers 50 and older. Specifically, the employers indicated older workers have more knowledge, wisdom and life experiences. Also, a majority 54% of those surveyed indicated older workers are more responsible, reliable and dependable.
With medical care improving and people taking better care of themselves, Americans are living longer and are now working well beyond retirement age. A recent Philadelphia Inquirer article highlighted many of the issues we have been discussing. An increasingly older workforce brings opportunities and challenges. One of the major challenges facing older workers is a lack of retirement savings, according to research from the Insured Retirement Institute. Their survey found 45 % of the Baby Boomer generation reported having zero retirement savings for their golden years. Without enough retirement savings and rising health care costs, our seniors are having to work well beyond retirement.
Based on conversations we have heard from older workers who truly believe they have suffered age discrimination in the work place, it is vitally important for us to balance their rights and the concerns of employers. Quite frankly, without employers, our older workers will not have a place to draw a paycheck.
According to a PBS NewsHour story, one company found a way to draw the perfect balance between older workers and employers is Vita Needle in Needham, Massachusetts. Rosa Finnegan is their oldest employee at 100, but the average age is 74. One of their talented and knowledgeable employee's is 94 year old, Bill Ferson. He applied for a part time job at Vita Needle at age 70 and 24 years later he is still working and loving his job. He believes he will never quit working. Interestingly, age discrimination seems to affect many seniors 55 and over, but at Vita Needle, ageism means the older the better. Fred Hartment, President of Vita Needle praises his older workers and believes they represent quality, are loyal and pay attention to detail. In the 1980's, older workers had been laid off or could not find work, so Vita Needle starting hiring them on a part time basis and the model took off. It was a win-win situation for the employer and older worker. It afforded Vita Needle the opportunity to hire part time workers and gave senior citizens a wonderful job with camaraderie and flexibility. The results are stunning, Vita Needle experienced record profits 18 out of the last 20 years.
The recently passed “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act” will help pave the way for future protections for older workers who have been discriminated against, but, hopefully businesses across the nation will follow Vita Needle's philosophy and fight for older workers. A place where older workers say it is the most wonderful place on earth.