For the 50+ crowd, the Great Resignation has been more like the “Great Shedding,” says Gary Officer, president and CEO of the Center for Workforce Inclusion. “We shed out of the economy a tremendous amount of older workers. They were let go and are having a hard time getting back in.” Some were laid off during the shutdowns early in the pandemic, even when employers received government-backed Paycheck Protection Program loans to stay in business. “And when the time came for them to come back to work, there was no work to come back to.” Overall, two-thirds of people who lost their jobs during the pandemic were re-employed; however, when you break down those numbers to workers 50+, only 30% were re-employed.
The prevalence of age discrimination increased during the pandemic, too. In AARP surveys of workers 45 and older, the percentage of respondents who either have witnessed or experienced age discrimination in the past year usually hovers around 60%. In the first year of the pandemic, 78% did.
“What the pandemic did was just to intensify problems that were already there, to expose, to make obvious and often to deepen inequalities,” says Beth Truesdale, co-editor of a new book on older workers called Overtime. Both she and Officer spoke at a National Press Foundation symposium at AARP headquarters in September. “There are going to be people for whom having fallen out of work during the pandemic is going to affect the whole rest of their lives.”
Just getting a foot in the door can be near impossible. Artificial intelligence in HR software can exclude older workers; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is currently investigating the prevalence of exclusionary algorithms in the hiring process. Recruiters can set LinkedIn filters to exclude by age people from even seeing job ads. And language in ads, intentional or otherwise, can also deter older worker from applying. (There is software, some of it free, to check for biased language in job ads; also, AARP has a guide Say This, Not That, that’s useful for employers.)
“If you start posting jobs where you say you want somebody who’s energetic, a lot of times older people will self-select out of that process,” says Lori Trawinski, director of finance and employment for AARP. “There’s an obligation on the part of employers to educate themselves about the bias and how a job description can be written in a way to discourage certain people from applying."