When we picture how our careers will go, most of us assume that, by the time we're in our 50s, we will have built up skills, knowledge and experience that will make us valuable resources for our employers. We will be in a steady job -- perhaps at a company where we've been working for years. We will be in our prime earning years and working on a solid plan for retirement.
A new analysis suggests that picture is unduly rosy. The nonprofit newsroom ProPublica and the Urban Institute dug into the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which has been following the health and economic security of a nationally representative group of 20,000 people over 50 since 1992. The HRS, which is funded by the government and administered by the University of Michigan, is widely considered a gold-standard source of information about this age group.
The researchers focused their analysis on people who had, before age 50, been in steady, long-term jobs. What they found appears to be stark evidence of age discrimination.
The analysis discovered that 56 percent of these high-quality workers suffered at least one employer-driven job loss between age 50 and retirement. Another 9 percent suffered a job loss driven by personal conditions. In other words, almost two-thirds of Americans over 50 are losing their jobs just when they expected to be earning and saving the most.
The outcome was not positive for most of them. Only about one in 10 of these workers ever regained a comparable salary to the one they lost.
Here is a breakdown of the 56 percent of job losses that were considered employer-driven. The percentages are out of 100:
- Twenty-eight percent of steady workers over 50 will experience at least one layoff.
- Thirteen percent retired unexpectedly under conditions suggesting they were actually forced out.
- Fifteen percent reported that their pay, working conditions or treatment by supervisors had so deteriorated that they felt compelled to quit.
"We've known that some workers get a nudge from their employers to exit the workforce and some get a great big kick," commented a Brookings Institution labor economist. "These findings tell us that a sizable percentage, possibly a majority, of workers who hold career jobs in their 50s will get pushed out of those jobs on their way to retirement."
Both the New York State Human Rights Law and the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibit all types of age discrimination, including the use of pretexts to achieve discrimination. If you believe you may have been targeted for a layoff or forced out of a job due to your age, discuss your situation with an experienced employment law attorney.
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