Recently, two instructors (Saul Levmore and Martha Nussbaum) from the University of Chicago Law School wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal recommending that the U.S. change the law on age discrimination and employment for various reasons. My favorite reason for changing law and policy is: “the average worker is now retiring later, which means there are fewer jobs for young people.” Funny, I don’t seem to recall any time in my growing up or experiencing in what could be described as my career that the “old people” had to be cleared out for the “young people” in the workplace. This is solid evidence the millennials must be working overtime on taking over the world. Maybe not overtime, because the millennials understand what work-life balance is and playing with the X-box is an important part of life.
Their proposal sounds as if the authors are looking for another crowbar to pry the Baby Boomers even further from the economy so that they can bring in the millennials and make the working world even more sensitive, and genderless, with the essential work/life balance, but I’m sure that if any overtime or really stressful hours are necessary they will be glad to let the Boomers take those assignments. Being close to the graveyard, the Boomers, what is left of them to work, might as well have the graveyard duty.
As stated in the article, “few 80-year-olds are as good at their job as they were in their 50s.” So true, but really, how many 80-year-olds are actually in the workforce? As of 2007, the percentage of workers 75 years of age and older was eight tenths of one percent, or 0.8 %, so the 99.2% of the workforce is really going to have to put their nose to the grindstone to make up for all the work not getting done by the old folks. Certainly a reason to change the law, don’t you think?
Few 20-year-olds are as good as a 30-year-old, or 40 year old, or near as good as a 50ish seasoned veteran, but we need to think of the future. If you want to make the argument that 80 year olds aren’t as good as 50-year-olds, I’m happy to concede the point, but then you must also acknowledge that 20-year-olds are nowhere near as good as 30-year-olds, so they should not even be considered for a position, since they’re going to enter the job and mess up a great deal and, oh, my lord, the phrase no corporation wants to hear anymore “they will need training.” No need for training is yet another reason to hire older, experienced workers, rather than the young bucks who still need to learn the ropes and are likely to make rookie errors. Employers don’t talk about not hiring older workers, they just don’t hire them, all the while complaining that they can’t find any qualified applicants.
The Baby Boomers will begin reaching the age of 70 quite soon, and that demographic bubble in the workforce will grow, so corporate America is looking to head them off at the pass, and just kick the older workers to the side of the road of their careers. It seems that Levmore and Nussbaum are proposing measures supposedly good for aging Baby Boomers, but there are holes in their theory.
The article brings up one of the fears any organization has is when hiring an older person is that they will stay way too long, way past any time that could be described as “productive.” This “stay till they die” mentality makes little sense when one looks at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reports that on average: “wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was 4.2 years in January 2016.” Even if you hire someone in their early sixties, statistically, they will not be working for your firm by the time they are 65 or older, when the average worker stays on the job for 4.2 years. One of the more profound explanations is where the article wants to stop the retirement at sixty. “The employer is properly concerned that any encouragement to retire will be interpreted as discrimination on the basis of age.” Whereas, of course, refusing to hire a long-term unemployed older person whose job was exported or declining to hire anyone who made a late career change and earned more education isn’t age discrimination at all. All this, even though any new hire will likely not be with the firm more than four years, be they in their 20s or, God forbid, in their 50s or 60s, according to the statistical data. The authors want the changes in the law to where an employee and employer to “agree on a retirement age at the start of a new job.” This implies, of course, the employee or the employer knows at what point their productivity will decline. One can think of at least half a dozen diseases that would impede a fresh hire in their twenties, including Multiple Sclerosis, which particularly affects young adults, or psychological disorders like Schizophrenia, whose onset is most likely during late adolescence or young adulthood.
Young adults, the preferred employees of choice, are courting and getting married (though the marriage rate is declining gradually) having children and taking maternity leave, but they are still a better choice over older workers who have had their children and aren’t going through the building a family phase of life. It makes perfect sense to, well, someone anyway. Nonetheless, young people are worth the risk, and the old people, too much of a risk. How could one disagree with such sound reasoning? More genius of the article: “The recent increase in the median age U.S. retirement age is an unintended consequence of the shift from defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans (or no plan at all).” Certainly, the demographics of an aging population, declining or stagnating wages for the last forty-five years, the offshoring of millions of jobs and a sketchy, unpredictable job market would have nothing to do with people having to work more and retire at a later date.
Of course, none of those conditions or scenarios apply if you’re a lawyer, so why bother with any other reasons? It has to be the retirement plans. The authors use an example of someone over the age of 76 making $200,000 a year, which is less than the 0.8% of the population already referenced, and they should stop receiving Social Security until they stop working. I should hope so. Anyone making $200K a year who claims they need Social Security as well really needs to see a financial advisor.
They’re lawyers. They see things through the lens of lawyers. The idea of someone making less than $50K is probably unthinkable and unimaginable to them. The idea that older workers must step aside for younger, inexperienced workers sounds more like a rationale for ageism than a plan for development. Corporations of today seek to socialize the cost of training workers, asking the public education systems to invest heavily in equipment and personnel so that the corporations don’t have to spend any money training employees. Corporations, understanding the desperation of states to draw any kind of revenue, hold states at gunpoint, asking for guarantees of tax relief just to locate a facility in that state, which then subsequently closes down the plant and lets everyone go when the markets take a downturn. Great deal. The states give up all the tax revenue and faces paying the unemployment when the plant shuts down.
The aging population of the U.S. still seeking employment are the Americans who haven’t given up. They haven’t claimed a disability and decided to quit looking for work. They watched working peoples’ wages stagnate while CEO wages soared. They watched jobs drain out of the U.S. into Mexico and Third World countries. They watched Wall Street bankers make outrageous bets and get bailed out by a government that allowed the financial types to take incredible risks and then bailed them out with minimal accountability and consequences. They have watched an inept and irresponsible government allow 11 million illegal immigrants into the very country that many of them had fought and risked their lives for, only to see the millions competing against them in the job market and driving wages down. They watched the well-connected elites and the wealthy gain opportunities because of who they knew and not what they had done, and now they are expected to leave the workforce to “allow young people in” a privilege never offered to them when they were in the same situation.
America’s economy and wages slide further and further down, and the experienced employees with a track record of making things work are expected to step out of the way for a bunch of greenhorns. Consider how some of the most important CEOs set an example and stepped aside for younger leadership, or not. Jeffrey Immelt was CEO of GE for 17 years, hanging on just three years short of those fabulous twenties that every corporation is looking for in a candidate. Robert Iger is the CEO of Disney, and after his 17 year run it doesn’t appear he’s looking to hand off the leadership to some energy-filled, computer-savvy, non-gender-identified, work-life balance guru twentysomething anytime soon. In terms of capital, the U.S. is deep in debt that we will never recover from if the concentration of wealth remains in a small percentage while the working poor earn work a full week’s wages and still have to collect welfare to support themselves. Corporate America has decided the most experienced are to be shown the door at a time when the U.S. needs all of the experienced talent it can get, and the HR people keep insisting that there aren’t any qualified candidates applying. It becomes more and more unbelievable every day.