As America goes through its racial reckoning there is another form of discrimination advocates feel does not get the same amount of attention: age discrimination.
When layoffs became rampant during the pandemic, studies suggest age bias became more pronounced as employers had to consider who to keep on and who to let go.
AARP did a study prior to the pandemic that found 61% of people ages 40-65 either had seen or experienced ageism in their workplace.
In May 2021, when the study was revisited, the number of people who reported seeing or experiencing age discrimination jumped to 78% as many jobs had to lay off staff, the highest number AARP had seen since it started tracking the issue in 2003.
“I had a track record, a very successful track record. I was well-known in Denver for being one of the best in the industry,” said Linda Harmon, a 67-year-old marketing professional who was denied a job, she said, because of her age. “The big joke with women my age is you have to keep your hair colored. You’ve to do this or do that because they’ll know how old you, are and if they know how old you are you can’t get hired.”
Harmon applied for a chief marketing position at a company, but says she was passed over when the hiring manager told her she would not be able to handle their digital strategy on social media.
She says the feedback scarred her and took her out of the job market for nearly two years.
“It was very tough,” she said. “When there’s gaps in what could allow you to get your dream job you go fill those gaps, and I looked at this and thought, ‘This is a gap I can’t fill. I can’t go back 25 years so what am I going to do?’”
Not only does ageism have its psychological effects, studies show it also has its financial ones.
A study by the Urban Institute and ProPublica found that 90% of workers over the age of 50 who were pushed out of jobs before they were ready to retire never recovered their previous earning power.
“Ageism hurts us on every single level: it hurts us financially, hurts us health-wise because, and I think this is why it’s so hard to get people to go on camera,” said Janine Vanderburg, executive director of the group Changing the Narrative that works to combat ageism. “People don’t want to admit that they think that there’s something wrong with them instead of there’s a systemic issue going on which is called age bias.”