Age discrimination charges spike: more fallout from Perfect Labor Storm

Age discrimination charges spiked dramatically in 2008, another sign that the Perfect Labor Storm is approaching.  A graying workforce and bad economic times have combined to see age discrimination charges nearly surpass the charge that helped launch the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – race.

The number of age discrimination claims rose from 19,103 in 2007 to 24,582 in 2008, while retaliation claims rose from 26,663 to 32,690, just hundreds shy of overtaking the perennial number one type of charge filed with the EEOC—race discrimination, which rose to 33, 937 charges. The figure for age discrimination charges is particularly striking, given that only 16,548 age discrimination charges were filed in fiscal year 2006.

The Census Bureau estimates that there will be 71.5 million people in the United States who will be over the age of 65 by 2030, more than twice the 35 million over the age of 65 in 2000. With that being the case, the stats aren't just another consequence of a recession but the tip of a very large iceberg

What is driving this increase?  In a survey of 2,928 executives that showed their take on what drives age discrimination: 45 percent said customer preference, 28 percent pointed to higher compensation, 20 percent said rising health care costs and 7 percent mentioned technology. Lump higher comp and health costs together under the broader category of total compensation, and that percentage—48 percent—would be the number one reason.  What is significance is the causes?  Unlike gender and race, age discrimination charges are not generally based on dislike for individuals in that category.  Subtle changes in how you compensate employees especially if trying to recruit and retain younger replacement workers can create unintentional consequences.

The Perfect Labor Storm will have far-reaching consequences for businesses, much broader than just the lack of skilled workers most employers like to associate it with. Deliberate but careful workforce planning is absolutely essential these days.  Hard times may be forcing businesses to cut back and lay off workers but never before has management been faced with the effect of the coming "silver tsunami."


Ira S Wolfe