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Although at least two states, New Jersey and Michigan, have state laws protecting younger workers, the majority of young workers have no protection since federal law only deals with age discrimination against older workers, leaving the younger crowd vulnerable. Under federal law, young workers have no redress even if victimized by blatant discriminatory policies. Only victims over 40 have the right to sue in federal court.
For example, an employer who passes up a 20 year old worker for a promotion because of youth operates within the law, but if the same employer passes up a 45 year old, the older worker can sue in federal court, collect damages and gain the position to which the worker was entitled.
Everyone should remember, however, that federal reluctance to recognize the problem of age discrimination to the young does not mean that it does not exist. In fact, some say that the federal law makes the problem worse.
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Economic Conditions and Age Discrimination
Harsh economic times seem to take more of a toll on young workers than on older workers as they are often the first to be laid off. By laying off younger workers first, companies try to avoid any resemblance of age discrimination. Age discrimination cases routinely cost companies more than the the salary of the laid off employee, compounded by a generally higher cost in terms of reputation. This means that, from an economic standpoint, younger workers cost less to lay off than older workers do. This presents what some might call reverse discrimination, meaning that the anti-discrimination laws that protect older workers actually cause discrimination against other groups.
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Personal Circumstances and Age Discrimination
Just as young workers have no guarantee of equal opportunity in hiring, they have none in the midst of layoffs. Young workers may choose to believe that their job performance determines their chances for promotion and retention, but this is increasingly not the case. Supervisors and managers reportedly consider personal statistics as part of these decision making processes.
For example, age discrimination can affect the young when a promotion goes to an employee with children rather than to a better qualified worker without children. Similarly, companies often choose to retain workers with ill spouses depending on health insurance rather than healthy workers. In these cases and others, older workers tend to have circumstances that make them the compassionate choice for retention, leaving the harsh repercussions of age discrimination to the young.
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A recent report issued by the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee shows unprecedented high unemployment among young workers, illustrating how age discrimination to the young remains a serious threat. After becoming aware of this problem, workers who are most vulnerable can take some measures to defend themselves. First, younger workers can change their attitudes. Often among the group most prone to make demands for higher pay and more responsibility, young workers can moderate those tendencies to become less of a target.
Because younger workers often have more time on their hands and a greater ability to learn, they can increase their value to their employer by learning new skills and taking on unpopular responsibilities.
Finally, politics can go a long way toward the goal of self preservation. If younger workers can gain allies in the upper echelons in the company, they can form an anchor that will hold them in position during trying times.
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Fernando, Vincent, and Kamelia Angelova. "CHART OF THE DAY: Young Americans Learn That Trying To Find Work Is Pointless." Business Insider. July 7, 2010. http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-unemployment-by-age-young-americans-2010-7 (accessed July 8, 2010).
Mattioli, Dana. "With Jobs Scarce, Age Becomes an Issue ." Wall Street Journal. May 19, 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124270050325833327.html (accessed July 8, 2010).
"Younger workers more at risk of age discrimination." Management Issues. August 10, 2006. http://www.management-issues.com/2006/8/24/research/younger-workers-more-at-risk-of-age-discrimination.asp (accessed July 8, 2010).