More than three in five Oregonians 40 and older say they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination, according to a survey of 1,000 adults by the AARP.

But in Deschutes County, employment numbers suggest a robust workforce for people in that age bracket. People age 45 to 64 account for about 42 percent of the workforce in Deschutes County, according to employment data provided by Damon Runberg, regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department.

“That’s not an insignificant group,” Runberg said. “Mostly, people are aging into this cohort. It’s the baby boomers, for the most part. Look at the data through time; you see a fat chunk of workers moving from the 35-to-45 and move into the 65 cohort. That’s the same generation of people.”

The youngest baby boomers today are about 55; the oldest are in their 70s. And they represent the largest generation.

Connie Druliner, owner of Express Employment in Bend for the past 36 years, said in today’s world, there are jobs for everyone, regardless of age. She places a lot of employees whom she calls seasoned workers, those older than 40. A tight job market benefits workers seeking employment, Druliner said.

“If we pay attention in our line of work, we’ll find a match,” Druliner said.

How employees are hired is different today, Druliner said. Often, employers will want to try out employees on a temporary hire before offering permanent work, she said.

“That’s got nothing to do with age,” she said. “Seasoned workers are not having trouble getting work.”

A recent Gallup poll showed 41 percent of Americans expect to work beyond age 65, a jump since Gallup started tracking in 1995 when it was about 13.5 percent. The age required for full Social Security benefits for Americans born after 1937 is 66.

Runberg said the 2008 recession played havoc with workers’ retirement portfolios, and many people extended their time working to recoup losses. More time in the workforce, however, provides opportunity for older workers to experience age discrimination, according to the AARP study.

These study results, and the volume of calls to AARP from people who feel they have been discriminated against in their jobs or seeking a job, convinced state lawmakers to try to clarify what discrimination means when it comes to employment. However, that measure died in committee Thursday, leaving the door open for future efforts. The bill would have made it illegal for an employer to seek an applicant’s age before making an offer of employment, allow employers to observe seniority systems that do not require specific age for retirement, and prohibit an employer from including words or phrases on an application that might suggest an age preference.

“We are disappointed that it didn’t get a more of a work session on it,” said Joyce DeMonnin, AARP Oregon communication director. “We think it’s a strong bill, and we should move forward with it. This will not be the end of our efforts. The survey supports this idea overwhelmingly.”

Last year, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries received 230 complaints citing age discrimination, compared to 178 in 2013. Age discrimination makes up more than 1 in 5 of the discrimination claims received by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which received 18,376 complaints in 2017, the most current year data is available.

“Age discrimination is obviously illegal, but court decisions have created a high burden of proof for victims. It has become very difficult to enforce age discrimination laws,” said Rep. Carla Piluso, D-Gresham, who introduced the measure. “Age discrimination remains a pervasive problem, and we are optimistic that we can work with businesses and advocates to address it in the future.”

Oregon anti-age-discrimination laws are broader than federal law, said Saul Hubbard, Bureau of Labor and Industries communication director. In Oregon any employee 18 and older can claim age discrimination, but under federal law, it’s 40, Hubbard wrote in an email. This means in Oregon, younger workers can claim age discrimination, too, he said.

“For discrimination claims to prevail, there’s a tough burden on the employee,” said Eric Taylor, an attorney with Merrill O’Sullivan LLP in Bend. “The issue is that the employee has to prove that age was a big part of the decision and there is often a well documented nondiscriminatory reason that disproves this.”

According to the AARP survey, few employees report age discrimination, DeMonnin said.

“People are uncomfortable to call it out,” DeMonnin said. “Our survey indicated that people see it, believe it’s out there, but few report it. They said it was because they felt it won’t do any good and might make things worse for them. We all seem to be uncomfortable addressing age discrimination.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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