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A Message from EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows on Older Americans Month 2023

Each May, we observe Older Americans Month, when we consider and appreciate the immeasurable contributions of older Americans and — in particular — older workers. It is also an opportunity to redouble our efforts to address the challenges they face.

This year’s theme, Aging Unbound, reminds us that the experience of aging differs for everyone, but that everyone deserves the opportunity for independence and fulfillment as they age. For many, a job provides both.

Employers are relying on older workers more than ever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that more than half of the labor force growth in this decade will come from workers aged 65 years and older, even as overall growth will be slower than it has been in recent history. Gallup has observed that, of workers aged 55 to 74 years, far fewer are retiring.

There is good reason for employers to retain and hire older workers. Older workers can model strong work ethic and professionalism, and they often have strong “soft skills,” including leadership, problem-solving, and communication. Older workers also provide context and perspective, based on their experience, which bolsters collaboration and creativity. Research shows that many qualities, including “wisdom, resilience, compassion, and tolerance of stress,” increase with age. Older workers also stay with employers longer on average, contributing to stability and continuity.

And while employers are relying increasingly on older workers, older workers are also relying increasingly on employers. The increased prevalence of retirement plans that require an employee to decide whether and how to save for retirement offer flexibility, but they also create uncertainty that can require an older worker to delay retirement or return to work from retirement.

Unfortunately, those older workers who delay or return from retirement often face discrimination. An AARP survey found that nearly two-thirds of older Americans believe discrimination based on age is common. About a third of older workers had overheard negative, age-based comments about others at work and a sixth had received such comments themselves. Over half say they were asked when they were born while applying or interviewing for a job.

The EEOC is committed to addressing these problems by vigorously enforcing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and ensuring that older workers who want or need to work are afforded the same opportunities as younger workers. The EEOC not only conducts outreach and education on the requirements of the ADEA, but it also enforces those requirements through investigations and litigation. For instance, a manufacturer recently agreed to pay $460,000 to resolve an EEOC lawsuit alleging that it was removing older employees, refusing to hire qualified older applicants, and hiring underqualified younger applicants. Along with other injunctive relief, it also agreed to allow the EEOC to monitor its process for handling complaints of age-based discrimination. In another instance, the EEOC recently sued an organization that repeatedly asked an employee in her sixties to retire. When she refused, the employer eliminated her position and discharged her. Less than a month later, it reinstated her position and hired a new employee in his thirties as her replacement.

Likewise, the EEOC and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs have partnered to expand access to good jobs for unrepresented workers, including older Americans, through the joint Hiring Initiative to Reimagine Equity (HIRE). The EEOC is also tackling the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) is having on all workers, including older Americans, through our AI and Algorithmic Fairness Initiative. Indicators of age—including education and experience—are included on applications and resumes, meaning that older workers can be particularly susceptible to biased screening or selection mechanisms.

Employers who assume that older workers are less capable than younger ones disregard the law and the evidence to the contrary. Older workers are not only integral to most workplaces, but also the economy itself. Denying a person the ability to work is also denying the opportunity for independence and fulfillment. The EEOC will continue its efforts to combat age discrimination and help ensure that all workers have the chance to contribute to the economy and can enjoy equal employment opportunity in the workplace.

Charlotte A. Burrows (she/her/hers)


U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission