Ageism is driving older individuals out of the workforce just when the current economy needs people to work longer, according to the experts at Thursday’s Founders Summit, an event hosted by AARP AgeTech Collaborative and Primetime Partners.
In a panel discussion led by Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and Thrive Global’s founder and CEO, experts said there is a disconnect between firms forcing workers out in a time when there may not be the talent to replace them, and they may need to income to support longer lives. Huffington told an audience at the Founders Summit that companies should evaluate the age limits set on their employees’ work lifespan.
“Definitely now that we are living longer and working into old age, those companies that have arbitrary age limits have to reconsider that. They don’t make sense in the world we’re living in now,” Huffington said.
Huffington noted that she launched the Post at 55, and Thrive Global at 66, saying that age is “sort of a construct” assuming one is healthy.
That hasn’t kept some firms from seeking to get older workers out, according Alan Patricof, chairperson and co-founder of Primetime Partners.
“I’ve heard so many companies that had forced retirement at 60,” Patricof said. “If you believe me that I’ll live until 114, then at 60, I’ve just lived past the halfway mark, and they’re telling me to go after sunset. More and more companies have these rules, where at 60 or 65 you are going into forced retirement.”
Please Don’t Go
Recent research from retirement provider Smart shows that one in five American workers plan to keep working in retirement to fund what may be longer lives. The firm noted that retirement is becoming more of a “transition” state in which people may continue working.
If companies manage that transition correctly, it may fit the current economy better, according to panelist Donna Shalala, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
“Companies are begging people to stay on and hiring older people,” said Shalala. “You can’t walk into a grocery store in this country without seeing someone that’s older. Those are new hires or relatively new hires.”
There are cases of people rejoining the work force out of retirement, said Patricof. “A lot of companies are looking around, and they don’t have any COBOL [programming language] people, so they have to go back to retirees to find them to bring back tech expertise.”
Shalala said that many jobs are finding ways to accommodate older workers. Companies, particularly with the combination of remote learning, remote working and the hybrid system, can work out flexible schedules to accommodate older people in the economy.
“I actually think we’re fundamentally rethinking people’s roles,” said Shalala. “Now that means that we have to do a lot more with a health care system to keep people healthy so that they can work. The economy is driving it, and COVID drove it.”
She said a specific program providing extra support for older individuals is Medicare Advantage Plans, which have to provide emergency coverage outside of the plan’s service area. “I would describe it as a Chevrolet plan and turning it into closer to the Cadillac plan. Those services allow us to support older people in a way that we have not before,” said Shalala.
Anti-ageism advocate Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, told panelists that ageism will only hinder leveraging human longevity.
“Ageism, structural age discrimination and internalized biases are the biggest obstacles to making the most of longer lives, the business that you are all engaged in,” said Applewhite. “So I urge you to make it central to your thinking and your efforts.”