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Brett Arends’s ROI: Over 40 and can’t get a job? Apply here

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Older workers face rampant age discrimination and bias in the workplace. Your bosses probably don’t want to promote you or even bother training you. They may be looking for ways to fire you. And if you get laid off, good luck getting a new job, let alone one matching your experience. 

Ageism is one of the last accepted forms of unfair discrimination. Even though it was theoretically made illegal in 1967, that law is honored even less than the 55 MPH speed limit on the highways. As Kristin Alden, an employee rights attorney in Washington, D.C., told the AARP, “Age discrimination is so pervasive that people don’t even recognize it’s illegal.” 

Arguably the cult of youth has never been stronger in America, even as the population gets older. As a friend over 50 put it to me not long ago, “the new rules of retirement are that we’re supposed to work until we’re 70, but we can’t get a job after 50.”

What can anyone do? Well, here’s one piece of practical good news.

Uncle Sam is hiring workers over age 40. Apparently he likes to hire the over 40, and pays them well. Oh, and he’s hiring.

The over 40 make up 72% of the federal workforce, compared with just 54% of the U.S. civilian workforce, according to a new report out from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. (The figures are from 2017.) Furthermore, older people who work for Uncle Sam actually earn more, on average. Federal workers in their early 50s earn 8% more than those in their early 40s, and those in their early 60s earn slightly more than that still.

“Federal employees 40 and over enjoy greater representation and more diversity than their nonfederal sector counterparts,” the report says. “Further, the data indicating that federal employees earn more as they get older suggests that the federal sector is successful in discouraging pay penalties as we age.”

The jobs also come with retirement benefits including a defined contribution element, like a 401(k), and a defined benefit (or final salary) component.

The authors’ analysis of federal employment data found that pay disparities still exist in federal employment that could be attributed to other factors. “While individuals at a workplace carry multiple group memberships and discriminations are based on allegiance to such memberships,” the EEOC writes, “these allegiances are prioritized based on forces that shape our perceptions of the relative value of each membership. In an American sociopolitical context, race and sex allegiances may be stronger than age allegiance.”

That said, these other forms of discrimination may also be less prevalent in federal employment than the private sector, their data suggest. For example in federal employment African-Americans are overrepresented by 8 percentage points compared with their share of the civilian labor force, while whites are under represented by 5 points. Men account for more than half of the employed, but women make up 43% of federal workers, compared with just 51% of the civilian labor force. The average white federal worker earns more than the average Black or Hispanic worker, but less than the average Asian worker. That pay disparity between average male earnings and average female earnings among federal workers is about 8% even after accounting for educational levels.

Last year, President Biden signed executive orders aimed at strengthening the federal government’s role as “a model for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility” in terms of employment. According to the order, this meant strengthening employment opportunities for members of “underserved communities,” including “individuals who belong to communities that may face employment barriers based on older age or former incarceration.”

If you’re over 40 and looking for work, and everyone in the private sector is ghosting you, try Uncle Sam. He’s advertising jobs right here, and apparently there are currently 12,700 vacancies.

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