The hidden age discrimination older workers face in the job hiring process

With people living longer, many older Americans are likely to have the desire or the necessity to work past the conventional retirement age. Unfortunately, their age may be working against them when it comes to getting hired.

University of California, Irvine researchers made a surprising discovery when they applied to real job openings by sending out 40,000 identical resumes that differed only in age. “The call-back rate — the rate by which employers contact us and say we’d like to interview you — drops from young applicants to middle-aged applicants and drops further from middle-aged applicants to older applicants,” said the study’s lead author.

Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against older workers. However, companies try to get around the law by using other ways to screen for age.

For example, tobacco company R.J. Reynolds gave its job recruiters hiring guidelines that said they should avoid candidates with between eight and 10 years of experience. Ultimately, only 19 out of around 1,000 applicants hired were over the age of 40. The company was later sued after an employee blew the whistle on its hiring practices.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan highlighted yet another potential source of age discrimination. She claimed that ageism is built into the online job-hunting tools that millions of Americans use. The software of certain job sites can automatically exclude older workers. For instance, applicants may be unable to complete resume or profile forms because some drop-down menus do not have dates or options that accommodate older job seekers.

“Today’s workforce includes many people working in their 70s and 80s,” Madigan said. “Barring older people from commonly used job search sites because of their age is discriminatory and negatively impacts our economy.” The Illinois Civil Rights Bureau is investigating various job sites for potential age discrimination.

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