Older, Diverse Workers Better Represented in Federal Sector, but Pay Gaps Persist

A new report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reveals that older workers are far better represented in the federal government than the private sector, but federal workers still face barriers when it comes to gender and racial pay gaps.

According to the report, which was released Feb. 14, workers over age 40 account for 72% of the federal workforce, compared to 54% of the total civilian labor force. Annual earnings for over-40 federal workers averaged nearly $88,000 and peaked among workers aged 65 and older, whose annual earnings averaged nearly $92,000. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which the EEOC enforces, protects workers aged 40 and older from discrimination in the workplace.

The numbers paint a comparatively rosy picture of the federal sector during a week when age discrimination in the private sector has made headlines. According to media reports, court filings made public Feb. 11 show IBM executives discussing plans to phase out older employees, referred to as “dinobabies” in one email from a top executive, in favor of younger workers. An earlier investigation by ProPublica found that from 2013 to 2018, the company eliminated more than 20,000 employees ages 40 and older.

According to AARP, about half of jobseekers ages 55 and up are considered long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for more than six months, and 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.

Given the statistics, the federal sector might look like a haven for middle-aged and older workers. But the EEOC report found pay gaps persist between older white men and everyone else. In the federal sector, men aged 40 and over make $91,250 on average — about $7,414 more than women in the same age group.

And while the federal government employs a higher percentage of Black and Native American workers than the civilian labor force overall, the report shows these groups, along with Pacific Islanders, are the lowest paid in the federal sector. Native American and Black federal workers 40 and older make $69,202 and $77,580 on average respectively, compared to white and Asian workers, who make more than $91,000 on average. The EEOC noted that pay discrepancies exist even when comparing workers with similar education levels.

The report also analyzed statistics on employment discrimination complaints and found age discrimination complaints accounted for 31-32% of all EEO complaints filed by federal workers between fiscal years 2013 and 2017. About 23% of private sector complaints during the same period alleged age discrimination. Approximately 21% of federal age discrimination complaints were settled during the period, compared to just 7% to 8% for the private sector.

The share of older workers in the U.S. workforce has grown considerably over the past two decades as the massive baby boomer generation has aged. In 2000, workers over age 55 accounted for about 13% of the labor force, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2020, that age group made up 23.6% of the workforce. In 2030, they are projected to reach 25.1% of the workforce, and 9.5% of the workforce is expected to be 65 or older — more than triple the figure from 2000.

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