I agree with Robert J. Samuelson that the retirement age should be raised to 70 or beyond and that we need to come to grips with the increasing costs of retirement and health care [op-ed, Aug. 24].
However, the facts do not support his assertion that age discrimination laws "act like minimum wage laws" and are responsible for "increasing labor costs to artificially high levels . . . [and thereby] discourage the hiring of some older workers and lead to the 'downsizing' of others."
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) does not protect higher wages and benefits. It does not require employers to increase wages as employees gain age and seniority. It prohibits employers only from treating older employees or applicants worse than younger employees or applicants just because they are older.
The statement that the ADEA "make[s] it hard for employers to offset older workers' higher costs" is also mistaken. The ADEA explicitly permits employers to reduce benefits for older workers, as long as they spend the same amount on those benefits as they spend on younger workers.
Although there is a legal prohibition against using Medicare as the primary payer for workers who are eligible for Medicare, that prohibition is not part of the ADEA. Moreover, it was enacted not to protect older workers but to protect the public fisc.
Citing the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receives 16,000 to 17,000 charges of age discrimination annually, Mr. Samuelson contended that employers shun older workers because "they pose more legal risks." But each year the commission also receives 27,000 charges of race discrimination, 24,000 charges of sex discrimination and 15,000 charges of discrimination on the basis of disability. Older workers pose no greater "legal risks" than other groups.
Mr. Samuelson conceded that older persons have a more difficult time being rehired. This phenomenon is not because age discrimination laws increase labor costs. It is because of negative stereotypes about older people and because of assumptions that workers with experience will insist on higher salaries.
DIANNA B. JOHNSTON
Director, ADEA Policy Division
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission