I’m turning 50 on Saturday, and my wife and friends tell me that “50 is the new 30.” There’s even a blog named after this phrase.
While gyms and trendy cafés are filled with these “50 are the new 30 year-olds,” the job market tells a much different and more sobering story.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, when older workers lose their jobs, the re-employment rate for individuals between 55 and 64 is 47 percent (dropping to 24 percent for those over 65), compared with a 62 percent re-employment rate for 20 to 54 year-olds. The average length of unemployment for older workers is 46 weeks, compared with 20 weeks for younger workers. When older workers find new employment, their median salary loss is 18 percent compared with a 6.7 percent drop for 20 to 24 year-olds.
This data doesn’t match the rosy picture my wife is painting about me turning 50. And it gets worse. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court issued Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 129 S.Ct. 2343 (2009), making it harder to win age discrimination claims brought under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act than claims brought on race, sex, and other bases covered by Title VII. Under California law, the standards are the same but some courts seem to require more evidence of age-related comments and age-bashing than they do for other forms of discrimination.
For example, in Sandell v. Taylor-Listug, Inc. 188 Cal.App.4th 297 (2010), a San Diego Superior Court judge dismissed 60-year old Robert Sandell’s age and disability discrimination lawsuit before trial, despite being provided with evidence that Mr. Sandell was replaced by a younger employee, that the company’s President stated at meetings that he wanted to replace older workers with younger employees, that employees over 50 were being replaced with substantially younger new hires, and that the company’s founder told Mr. Sandell that he “is old” and is “getting up there.” Fortunately, the Court of Appeals reversed the San Diego Superior Court’s decision and allowed Mr. Sandell’s case to go before a jury, but this case highlights the uphill battle employees face when bringing claims based on age discrimination.
Finally, the social, emotional and financial impact on older workers who lose their jobs can be devastating. People are living longer and are having children later in life, and many cannot afford to “retire” or be forced out of work in their 50s, 60s or even 70s. In addition, an employee over 50 may have worked for the same employer for many years, so that losing a job results in the loss of an integral social network.
As I approach 50, my professional commitment to advancing the rights of older workers has become a little more personal. Jokes about “Having a senior moment” no longer sound so funny or hit a little too close to home, because in the job market 50 is definitely not the new 30.