End the duopoly

We need a social justice movement for older workers

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This Friday, as it does every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the unemployment rate for September 2019. Likely, it will remain close to its current 3.7 percent, and a mix of analysts, talking heads, and politicians, will discuss the still tight labor market and look for clues about what that number means for the economy as it approaches the last quarter of the year.

Overlooked by many of the analysts, talking heads, and politicians, however, are other data in the monthly BLS report that should be raising questions. Among these: Why should it take older workers longer to find jobs than younger ones, and why should their odds of being out of work six months or more — often the kiss of death for a job seeker — be so much higher?

In 2017, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), celebrated its 50th anniversary of protecting workers age 40 and older. Age discrimination may be unlawful, but it still seems to be widespread and especially difficult to prove when it comes to the hiring of older job seekers.

Today’s low unemployment rate masks serious challenges facing our nation’s labor markets: growing inequality, stagnant wages, precarious jobs with few benefits, and high long-term unemployment rates — especially for older workers.

We also face rapid technology changes that will result in new opportunities, but also displacement for many workers. Yet our public policies like unemployment insurance have changed little since the 1930s, and our workforce adjustment programs are fragmented, reactive, and inadequate, especially for mid-career and older workers.


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