Does Age Discrimination Law Increase Labor Market Discrimination Against Older Workers

The current recession has hit the youngest cohorts the hardest, but in many ways the saddest stories come from the older cohorts of workers. Unemployment among fiftysomethings is lower than among twentysomethings, but those people in their fifties who have lost their jobs face an extraordinarily bleak outlook. And in an interest article on the evolution of retirement in America, Emily Yoffe suggests that the adoption of rules banning mandatory retirement policies have actually made things worse:

“Basically, it’s a mess,” says [Steven A.] Sass of the world of retirement today. He says employers liked mandatory retirement because it allowed for an orderly and predictable departure from the payroll. But that certainty is gone at a time that, more than ever, older workers need to find new jobs. In the 1980s, Sass says, about 75 percent of 50-year old workers would be at the same company 10 years later. Today, only half of 60 year-olds are working at the same place that employed them at age 50. In Working Longer, he and [Alicia ] Munnell float what he calls the “somewhat scandalous” suggestion that the prohibition on mandatory retirement be repealed—allowing companies to impose it, he suggests, at the “politically feasible” age of 70. “Unless employers have an assurance they have a way to get rid of older employees, they won’t hire older workers,” he says.

Sass, Munnell, and the team at Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research are some of the best in the business so I doubt they arrived at that conclusion frivolously.