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Study shows older-worker job losses more damaging than thought

At our law firm, we advise California employers on how to comply with state and federal laws against age discrimination. Last summer, we posted in this space about a class-action lawsuit alleging that social-media advertising for job openings that only display in the feeds of workers under a certain age are discriminatory based on age. Those in the employment law field are still waiting for this decision to understand its implications.

Today, we will discuss a new study of the circumstances surrounding older-employee job loss. The Urban Institute and ProPublica concluded from their analysis of data from the Health and Retirement Study or HRS that over 50 percent of older employees are "pushed out" earlier than they would have otherwise chosen to leave their positions.

HRS is a respected federally funded project administered by the University of Michigan. Since 1992, it has tracked the experiences of a national sample of around 20,000 people as they age after age 50.

What do the data suggest?

The ProPublica and Urban Institute researchers who analyzed HRS data found that through 2016, 56 percent of participants who had stable, long-term jobs at 50 either were laid off once or more, or left employment "under such financially damaging circumstances that it's likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily."

Significantly, only one in 10 of them could regain the level of earnings they had before job loss, likely causing significant financial challenge in older age. As one researcher put it, "For the majority of older Americans, working after 50 is considerably riskier and more turbulent than we previously thought."

Other findings from the study included the following:

  • Almost one-third of these workers had one or more "damaging" layoffs.
  • Thirteen percent of these employees "unexpectedly retire," suggesting that conditions at work may have contributed to their decision to retire.
  • Fifteen percent of this cohort separated from jobs because of worsening conditions or terms of employment.
  • Jobs found after layoffs or retirements in this group are often less desirable.

Lessons for California employers

Employers should establish a solid relationship with legal counsel who can provide ongoing advice about compliance with age discrimination laws in times of pressure to maintain lean workforces. Employers must carefully choose recruitment and termination methods with an eye toward doing what is both legal and smart, all while maintaining good communication and relationships with employees. Each situation is unique and requires up-to-date legal and practical advice from an experienced lawyer.

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