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Majority of workers over 50 face unwanted termination, report says

Age discrimination may be far more common -- and more damaging -- than most people ever thought.

The nonprofit news organization ProPublica and a think tank called the Urban Institute recently analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a detailed survey of the work lives of Americans over 50. What they found was disheartening: 56 percent of U.S. workers will be laid off, forced out of a job or feel compelled to quit between age 50 and retirement. Worse still, only 10 percent of those workers will ever earn what they had before.

The HRS is a detailed survey of older Americans' economic conditions and health. The University of Michigan administers the survey, which is funded by the federal government. The survey is routinely cited by academics and provides a basis for business and government policymaking, according to ProPublica. It is considered a gold-standard source of information about the lives of older Americans.

Job losses affect those in full-time, long-term positions

The nonprofits' analysis of age-related job losses focused on responsible, long-term workers. Even so, these workers experienced employer-driven job losses at an alarming rate. Again, 56 percent of those who enter their 50s working in a full-time, long-held position experience at least one employer-driven job loss between age 50 and retirement. Those job losses were categorized as follows:

  • 28 percent of all the workers were laid off.
  • 15 percent of all the workers felt compelled to leave due to deteriorating working conditions.
  • 13 percent of all the workers entered retirement under circumstances indicating the decision was not voluntary.

Then, consider that another 9 percent of these workers quit working for personal reasons such as health or family issues. When those workers are considered, we see that nearly two-thirds of older Americans are experiencing involuntary job losses.

The Census Bureau says there are approximately 40 million working Americans over 50. The analysis indicates, at the very least, that some 22 million will experience an employer-driven job loss.

Only 10 percent of these will find replacement jobs that pay as well as their previous jobs.

Discrimination against those 40 and over is illegal under California and federal law

Age discrimination against people age 40 and over is prohibited by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). These laws not only prohibit clear examples of age discrimination but also subtler forms.

How to take action

We've all heard stories about age discrimination, but this report is alarming. It requires us to take action. If you have questions about age discrimination, contact an attorney who has experience in this area of the law.

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