February 28, 2008

The subject of “ageism” is a hot topic in the press and among employment commentators. As Baby Boomers grow older so does the  percentage of the United State population perceived as old and protected by age discrimination laws.

According to AARP, the percentage of people 65 and older who work has grown from 10.8 percent in 1985 to 16 percent last year. For people ages 55 to 64, the numbers also are up, from 54.2 percent in 1985 to 63.8 percent in 2007. The statistics on the aging workforce are astounding as demonstrated by Ira Wolfe in his book  and blog called The Perfect Labor Storm 2.0. This effect is seen everywhere and plays out differently in different forums.

In politics age is a negative. Michael Hirsh of Newsweek writes about McCain’s Unseen Adversary: Ageism in which he cites some survey information and posits  that “Indeed, according to a survey done by the Pew Research Center, Americans are a lot less comfortable voting a man in his 70s into the Oval Office than they are voting for a woman or an African-American for president.”

In law, age is a positive. Mark Sherman of The Boston Globe notes that the Supreme Court considering 5 ageism cases the growing prevalence of which he attributes to the aging population. He also notes that it “There is only one antibias law – the one against discrimination based on age – that would cover all nine Supreme Court justices, if such laws applied to them.”

In the workforce age is both a positive and a negative. Kate Lorenz at opines that Ageism on the Job can be turned into an advantage by older workers because of their education, sophistication and clout.

The tension between “young” and “old” is summed up in Granny verses the Mercedes: