Opinion / Politics

Dancing in the Rain – Age Discrimination Data and New Hope

Age Discrimination“Life is not about surviving the storm – but learning to dance in the rain.” That is the adage, made famous by Gene Kelly, stamping in puddles, spinning his umbrella, singing in a downpour. Who does not love seeing “Singing in the Rain” once more? Older Americans embody the sentiment, having gone through much – somehow managing to keep their smile. Now, we may be gaining some buy-in. Data makes the case for hope.

Age discrimination in the workplace – as invidious discrimination elsewhere – remains a serious issue, one worth intensive focus. On the other hand, as our national economy booms, as opportunities to keep working grow, and as the Trump Administration’s EEOC pursues violators, we may be seeing a shift. If so, that news is good – and well worth broadcasting. You will not find it elsewhere; you will find it here. No one will credit the Trump economy or the Trump EEOC – but both deserve credit.

Before reviewing the latest anti-discrimination data, consider some new realities. Americans are living longer – ten years longer, on average – than in the 1950s. The average American enjoys a life expectancy of 78.93 in 2020 – up ten years from 1954. Many live longer, depending on how they care for themselves. After slowing 2008 and 2014, the climb resumed – an upward trend over 70 years that has seldom slipped, skipped, or slowed.

Also noteworthy is a recent uptick in employment by older Americans, reflecting their disposition to work longer. A 2016 Pew survey noted, “More older Americans – those ages 65 and older – are working than at any time since the turn of the century, and today’s older workers are spending more time on the job …” In 2017, 37 percent of men and 27 percent of women 65 to 69 were still at work, including 16 percent of men, 10 percent of women over 70. Among other things, the data affirms the fantastic work ethic of older Americans.

Parallel data reinforce the point. A different Pew study confirmed older Americans are adapting to digital technology. They use email and social media. In 2017, “a record 46 million seniors” lived in the US, 15 percent over 65. Among those over 65, four-in-ten (actually, 42 percent) “report owning smartphones, up from 18 percent in 2013,” and “67 percent use the internet,” up 55 percent in just two decades. We seem to be intent on learning, undeterred, ready to embrace the next challenge.

Against a backdrop of economic growth, expanding work options, growing interest by seniors in working longer, and being tech-savvy, anti-discrimination data is perhaps not surprising – ‘but at the same time encouraging.

Not least is the stunning drop in EEOC complaints for age discrimination. Specifically, EEOC FY2019 data show age-related employment complaints at 15,573.

The number may seem high, but nationally it is a drop. Since FY2016, the number of age-related complaints has been steadily falling – by big numbers.

Age discrimination “charges” – the number of individuals making discrimination claims, rather than number of claims – is down markedly, whether that is due to economic growth, aggressive Trump enforcement, or fewer reasons to file complaints. The fact is not widely reported – but important.

As the US economy continues to roar, the number of age discrimination complaints is plummeting. In FY2018, complaints stood at 16,911, more than a thousand higher than FY2019. In FY2017, the year before, they stood at 18,376, 1400 higher. In FY2016, complaints numbered 20,857, and in FY2013, they clocked 21,396. The truth is, age-discrimination complaints have been dropping for a decade, but the drop accelerated under Trump. Perhaps not coincidentally, the top year was 2008.

What does the drop really mean? Why are we seeing a dramatic dip – especially between FY16 and FY19 – in age discrimination complaints? The answer is not clear, even if data is encouraging. Maybe older Americans are proving more adaptive or their skills, attitude, leadership, and life experience – military and civilian, writing and finance, management, and number-crunching, physical, mental, and emotional strength – more widely appreciated.

Maybe there are more jobs to go around, and more older Americans in good health to take them. Perhaps there is a shifting attitude across America, less concern for victimhood, less reason to complain in the workplace, a need for more experience, grounded hope, more equity, and more responsibility to be shared. Older Americans always step up.

Maybe the data is simply a function of a Trump’s serious-minded law enforcement, or an intersection of hope, promise, need and deterrence, a time of increased reality, accountability, innate fairness, opportunity, and job satisfaction.

In any event, the good news is worth reporting. A measurable drop in age discrimination, beginning a decade ago and accelerating in 2016, is good news. Taken with improved health, higher life expectancy, greater workplace participation, and a ground-pounding economy, these numbers are worth pause.

In a world preoccupied with badgering and bad news, focused on bringing us down, undermining Trump’s accomplishments, harping on stupidity and forgetting the good things, it is nice to see that – now and then – we remember how to dance in the rain. Older Americans know how to do that. And for any who forget, there is always the refresher, Gene Kelly is still out there, “Dancing in the Rain!”

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