NJ lawmakers: Honor older women — protect them in the workforce

In New Jersey it is not illegal to turn down a qualified job applicant or deny a promotion for no other reason than someone is 70 or older
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Women’s History Month is a time to reflect, commemorate and celebrate the vital role women have played in our history. This month, we celebrate the strong, powerful women who are making significant changes and contributions to today’s world and workforce; however, we would be remiss not to reflect on the injustices that women — particularly older women — continue to struggle against especially in the workplace.

Under New Jersey’s current legal landscape, it is still not illegal to turn down a qualified job applicant or deny a promotion to an excellent employee for no other reason than she or he is 70 or older. Can you imagine telling C. Vivian Stringer, Head Coach of Women’s Basketball at Rutgers University, that she should not have surpassed the 1,000-career victory milestone because she was 70? Should we just forget the last 16 years of legislation championed by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, because anything done over the age of 70 wasn’t worth it? Could you tell the vibrant 75-year-old behind the counter at your local store that she does not deserve to be there? It’s not just the women who would suffer — think of the loss to Rutgers University, to New Jerseyans, to the families in our state.

In the face of widespread unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this flagrant discrimination is an albatross around the neck of experienced job seekers and a drag on the state and national economy clawing its way to recovery. For women — who have already been fighting a lifetime of gender discrimination in the workplace, increased family caregiving responsibilities, and subsequent loss of Social Security and retirement savings — this is unacceptable.

AARP NJ applauds the New Jersey Assembly for passing legislation to confront New Jersey’s lack of protections against discrimination for workers over the age of 70. Now it is time for the New Jersey Senate to act swiftly to pass S-397 and get this bill to the governor’s desk. This change is long overdue. New Jersey lawmakers must use their votes to show older workers — and especially working women — that their experience and contributions are valued. Give working women a chance to fight for their financial security — and remove this antiquated barrier to rebuilding our state’s economy. Tell your New Jersey Senator to pass S-397 now.

Even before the pandemic, age discrimination was prevalent in the workplace. Three in five older workers reported seeing or experiencing age discrimination on the job, according to an AARP study. Another study found over half of older workers were pushed out of longtime jobs, and 90% of these workers never go on to earn as much again. The record-breaking unemployment caused by the pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges for older women and has made it even more difficult for older women to keep and find jobs. Now more than ever, New Jersey lawmakers must fix the state’s age discrimination problem.

In June, New Jersey’s unemployment rate was 16.2%, the highest it’s been since 1976 and the second-highest of any state in the nation. But the news for older workers was even worse. The monthly unemployment rate for those 65 and older reached 15.6%, the highest level since records began in 1948.

And once again, the news gets worse for women. The unemployment rate for women jumped by more than 12 percentage points between February and April, while the rate for men increased by less than 10 percentage points.

We must ensure that women’s unemployment and labor force participation rates recover — and the sooner the better. The implications of this decline in women’s employment goes beyond individuals and has consequences for household incomes, retirement savings, consumer spending, and the pace of the overall economic recovery in our state, the U.S., and around the world.

New Jersey needs all hands on deck if we are to recover from the devastating losses we have faced this year. We cannot continue to allow this arbitrary discrimination against our older workers. Join us in honoring women and older workers throughout the state.

AARP applauds the New Jersey Assembly, Speaker Coughlin and the bill sponsors Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle, Assemblywoman McKnight and Assemblywoman DeCroce for passing A-681, and urges the New Jersey Senate to pass S-397 now. Write to your lawmakers to ensure that New Jersey provides an equitable workplace for all generations. We must ensure that our residents — no matter their age or gender — can recover from this economic downturn. Now is the time to pass S-397 to be a champion for older workers.

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