Age discrimination in the workplace manifests itself not only in the form who gets fired, but also who gets hired. A study performed by AARP reviewing employment data for August 2011 found that job seekers age 55 or older spent an average of 52.4 weeks unemployed. In sharp contrast, the average length of time for younger job seekers was 37.4 weeks. The unemployment rate for applicants in the same age demographic jumped from about 3% in December 2007 to about 7% in August 2011, with rates roughly equal for men and women. By August 2011, nearly half of older job seekers met the criteria to be designated “long-term unemployed,” meaning they had been out of work for 27 weeks or more.
Not surprisingly, there appears to be a correlation between a faltering economy and age discrimination claims. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the most recent recession began around December 2007 and ended in about June 2009. Based on the EEOC’s Enforcement & Litigation Statistics, the number of age discrimination cases filed dramatically rose from 2007 to 2008 by 5,479 or about 29%. There was a relatively small decrease from 2008 to 2009 and a relatively small increase from 2009 to 2010. Overall, from 2007 through 2010, the EEOC saw about a 21% rise in age discrimination claims.
The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects employees age 40 years old or older from age discrimination. The law prohibits employers with 20 or more employees from discriminating in hiring or firing, as well as pay, job duties, and other aspects of employment, because of age. The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices provides similar protection for employees age 40 years old or older, but applies to employers with 6 or more employees.