Paula Cunningham is a woman who has successfully transitioned through various careers. She has held positions such as the President of Lansing Community College, the CEO of Capitol National Bank, and the State Director of AARP Michigan. Paula is an example of the many older Americans who want to stay in the workforce, even in the face of possible age discrimination.
Picture of Paula Cunningham:
“Not only are people waiting longer to retire, but they’re going back to work after they retire. They want to go back to work,” said Cunningham. A recent survey by SimplyWise, a retirement planning website, found that close to one in three Americans in their 50s plan to postpone their retirement, and that number goes to one in five for those in their 60s. These numbers are the highest since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to AARP.
As older Americans postpone retirement, the workforce ages. Among those 75 and older, the labor force is expected to grow by 96.5% by 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, many older American workers are experiencing age discrimination, which is at its highest since 2003. According to AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age bias on the job. In Michigan, 2,489 age discrimination claims were made with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017. This makes Michigan, which has the ninth-largest population, 12th in the nation for claims made.
One example of age discrimination in Michigan is the case of Denise Doster, a former human resources department employee who was turned down at age 60 when she applied for a different position. Coventry Medical Center hired a younger applicant instead. A jury awarded Denise Doster $540,269 in damages, but a Court of Appeals panel threw out the verdict. Now, Doster wants the Michigan Supreme Court to reinstate the award.
AARP, whose members are 50 or older, runs a program to help older applicants bypass discriminatory employers. Meanwhile, many older workers are calling for more legal protections, including a tougher federal law. Discrimination often takes the form of comments pushing an older employee to retire or expressing the desire for a younger employee, said Jennifer Salvatore, a Detroit-based civil rights lawyer. It can also include choosing a younger job applicant over an older one because of their age. In extreme cases, Salvatore said an employer may set an illegal policy requiring employees to retire at 59½.
“In some ways, I feel like it’s almost more socially acceptable for people to discriminate based on age than it is to discriminate based on race or gender,” Salvatore said. “You hear more comments, you hear more direct evidence of age discrimination than you do other types of discrimination.”
To combat this issue, Michigan AARP and Michigan Works! run a program where employers can list a job opening, and an application is emailed to AARP Michigan’s 1.3 million members. AARP also hosts hiring events where employers and applicants can meet. Cunningham said that those employers know beforehand that applicants are older, which helps prevent discrimination. The program was piloted in 2019 in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Detroit, and 74 people were hired during that pilot run. After that, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the program to virtual. There are more than 100,000 unfilled jobs in Michigan, according to Pure Michigan Talent Connect.
Older Michigan residents can help fill these vacancies and bring more experience to the table, said Cunningham. “The data has shown over and over and over again that older adults are more reliable. They come to work on time, they stay all day. They don’t have drama. They’re great mentors for younger people in the workplace, so we need