Mandatory retirement is still in the workforce, and it’s causing problems as people live — and work — longer.
Being compelled to leave a job because you’ve hit a certain age could impose significantly negative consequences on older employees, and experts say such a requirement shouldn’t exist at all.
Pennsylvania has a ballot question coming this November that directly touches on forced retirement, asking voters if an amendment should be created to extend the age a judge can be to serve. If approved, judges would be allowed to work until they are 75, five years past the age they’re currently required to let go of the gavel.
For a lot of workers today who hope to stay on the job well past 65, the good news is, not many jobs have a mandatory retirement age, thanks to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 that banished the cap of 70 years old in a 1986 amendment. That act now protects anyone older than 40. The bad news? There are a few roles in public and private sectors with an enforced timeline, and the effects on those employees can be detrimental.
Experts say pushing retirement on employees borders on discrimination.
“If you substituted any other characteristic for the word age…anybody would be shocked that that kind of bias was appropriate,” said Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging.
Instead of creating a set age for retirement, employers should identify each employee’s capabilities and skills at work, experts say.
“Everyone is entitled to be judged as an individual and everyone is different,” said Laurie McCann, senior attorney with AARP Foundation Litigation. “If someone is able to do a job at 70, 80, 90, they should be able to do their job.”
And yet, often that’s not the case. The Federal Aviation Administration requires pilots to retire at 65 and air-traffic controllers at 56. Federal law enforcement and firefighters must also retire by 57 — or they have the option to retire after 20 years of service even if they are not yet 57. States can determine a retirement age for their state and local police and firefighters, McCann said. Partners in law firms, accounting firms or doctor’s offices are exempt from the act as well.
Being forced to retire can have destructive effects on a person, both physically and emotionally. Full retirement caused a 15% to 16% increase in mobility issues, a 5% to 6% increase in illness, and a 6% to 9% decrease in mental health over the six years following retirement, according to a 2006 National Bureau of Economic Research report. Such effects were magnified if that retirement was pushed on the employee, and were offset if the retiree was married, physically active or worked in some other form.
Being kicked out of a job also leaves those still wanting to work in an uncomfortable situation when they apply elsewhere. Age discrimination is a huge problem in hiring, experts said. Employers are hesitant to hire older workers, partially because of concerns about cost and low productivity, according to a Stanford Center on Longevity report.
“I’m not going to sugar coat it, ageism is alive and well in the workplace,” said Kerry Hannon, an AARP jobs expert and author of “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+.”
Boomers, the oldest of which turned or are turning 70 this year, say age doesn’t equate to job performance, and experts say as this generation lives longer, their abilities are being prolonged as well. “The 76-year-old today is not the 76-year-old of the generation before,” Hannon said.
Regardless, older people still want jobs, and that’s a trend that’s not going away any time soon, Irving said.
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For some, the desire to work is linked to financial reasons, but for others, it is simply wanting to stay engaged and productive. The labor-force participation of workers 65 and older is expected to increase, to 21.7% in 2024 from 18.6% in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Older women are working into their retirement years because they don’t have enough money to last or they sincerely like their jobs.
While employers are figuring out how to retain or hire older employees, more seasoned workers forced into retirement or wanting to stay in the workforce should try to find a new job sooner rather than later, sharpen their skill set, update their résumés with relevant information, and stay physically fit, Hannon said.
The salary may not be what it was before, but applicants can negotiate the entire compensation package, including potentially telecommuting or more vacation time. Workers should look at employers’ concerns, including being overqualified or working with younger employees, and positively address them one by one, she added.
“People should have an opportunity to maximize their talents throughout life,” Irving said. “No matter who they are, whether it is a question of race or gender or ethnicity or frankly, age.”