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The Persistence of Age Discrimination


“In my opinion, what makes a job search so difficult for people in later years is a sense of entitlement to certain pay levels, benefits and perks without bringing to the workplace the new skills and energy required of the position.”

- The Business Ledger [undated]

In other words, according to Jim Elsener, older workers are shiftless, lazy lay-abouts who want something for nothing.

On what is his statement based? Crabby Old Lady wants to know. What are this guy’s sources? How many, compared the universe of older workers, is he talking about? He doesn’t tell us. He just smears everyone not young with contemptible bigotry worthy of the Ku Klux Klan.

You think that’s too strong a characterization? Think again. A lot of people seem to believe they can use slurs against older workers they wouldn't dream of using against other groups. Crabby and her friend Ronni will continue to repeat this little experiment, when such bigotry is encountered, until the world gets it: replace the phrase “people in later years” in that quote with “people of color.” There is no difference in the underlying hate represented.

And that is what older workers are up against even though study after study show them to be more reliable, stable, experienced and productive than many younger workers. Mr. Elsener continues:

“Older workers must upgrade their skills to modern expectations, maintain an energetic work ethic, have reasonable expectations and be open to change.”

Does he mean more reasonable than the 20-something who was insulted, some years ago when Crabby offered her a production assistant position, because she thought she was a producer based on making one ten-minute graduation film? Or is he speaking of the skill level of the young job applicant, presenting himself to Crabby as a writer, who couldn’t construct a sentence in which the subject and verb agreed?

The negative assumptions held about older workers applied against correspondingly positive ones about younger workers are stunning to Crabby in their ignorance. Age bigots, who harp at length about older workers upgrading their skills, proceed from the belief, it seems, that everyone older than 50 has been locked in a time warp during their past 30 years of employment, still using a manual typewriter.

But the real difficulty for older workers is not in the details. The persistence of age discrimination stems from the same mindless hatefulness from which racism occurs, and it is no less tolerable.


Election Year in the Blogosphere

As Cowtown Pattie would put it, Crabby Old Lady is about to "pitch a fit." She is painfully cranky this week about issues ranging from her employment search to a snotty piece on age discrimination in The Business Ledger, recently encountered ineptitude of local government and most of all, the state of election coverage among the big-time bloggers.

A lot of blogerati blather, lately, has been expended not on issues of concern to voters, but on press coverage of the election campaign. Mainstream print and television reports have been dissected in excruciating detail, sentence by sentence, followed by commentary on how dumb, boring, partisan and/or wrong it all is.

Crabby cannot disagree much of the time, but she has lost her patience with these self-appointed know-it-alls whose testosterone levels - most are men - have surpassed their caffeine intake and think it's more cool to take on big media than talk about real life - which is what politics becomes when the voting is over.

They’ve got a cheap soapbox and many of them are smart fellows. If they’d quit hollering “Me, me, me, look at me” and pretending to have the inside track when they’re only quoting each other, they might have some time left to rectify that poor reporting they bitch about, to do some thinking and analysis themselves on the campaign issues both candidates sidestep as they sling around the mud.

For that is what is mainly wrong with the election coverage in and out of the blogosphere: it’s not about anything that matters.

Veteran reporter, Richard Reeves, once said something to the effect that “real news is what you and I need to know to keep our freedoms.” Crabby can’t think of a better definition, but she’s not finding much of it in the mainstream press. Nor in our blogging world.

Blogs are approaching critical mass. They are on the cusp of becoming an influential news and opinion source with the enormous plus of being unencumbered (so far) by corporate control. But unless those who have created that opportunity – the bloggers with readership in the tens and even hundreds of thousands – raise the level of the conversation beyond the "old media" they criticize, they will have become one with Pogo's lament: "We've met the enemy and he is us."

Worse, the promise of the Internet for serious, smart, important public discourse, for which blogs are an ideal form, will lose its momentum.

To make reasoned decisions on election day, Crabby, and all voters, need good, solid, hard information in place of the short, slick soundbites hammered out by political handlers and repeated by the press pack. She expects no better from any of them, but she still has high hopes for the political blogerati. So here are a couple of suggestions they might think about adopting in the final weeks of the campaign to get us that information and, at the same time, help drive the Internet toward something better than we are accustomed to in newspapers and on television:

Refuse to cover the “horse race.” That is, the polls, the spin, the strategy, the red and blue maps. They have nothing to do with our freedoms and our future and nobody but campaign advisers will remember any of it after November 2.

Don’t mention Kerry’s Vietnam and Bush’s National Guard ever again. Kerry served. Bush avoided. Thirty years later, it doesn’t matter. Bury it.

Someone with more readership than Crabby Old Lady might want to point out, in regard to the Flip-Flop Flap which won't go away, that all thinking people change their minds when presented with new facts. Having explained that once, let it go. Refuse to report it when it comes up again.

Each hotshot political blogger with a big audience: pick an issue – there are many we need to know more about - and do it to death. Become the expert. Give Crabby the information she needs to know what’s changed in the past four years under Bush, Kerry’s background on it, what they’re each saying about it now, what’s at stake for the future and then – come on, guys, take a stand based on the work done.

Not the zealous, partisan, stinking, slimy attack stand some political bloggers on both sides of the fence shriek from their pages. But an intelligent, reasoned conclusion. Persuade Crabby. Present the background and facts and tell her why you believe Kerry or Bush is the better choice on that issue.

And stay off those cable shouting-match shows. Or, if your testosterone temporarily overpowers your intelligence, at least don’t let them bait you into yelling back when you’re there. It is demeaning and unseemly.

Crabby isn’t sure this is the most important election, as some say, in half a century, but our world has grown so much more complex since she first voted eleven elections ago, that no one voter, on his or her own, can be up to speed on every issue. Crabby needs some help. The mainstream press isn’t doing the job and Crabby is disappointed in the blogosphere so far. But there are still five weeks left until election day.

We know from Rathergate that name bloggers can affect the national discourse. Tina Brown’s fatuous blog snobbery notwithstanding, there is an opportunity – right now, before it fades with the passage of the election – to show the increasingly lax mainstream press how to do it: how to engage the electorate, how to inform them on the issues and how candidates’ positions and past records might affect their decisions as president.

Many political bloggers have set themselves up as smarter, better and more concerned than the mainstream press. Now is the time to prove it.

Whew! Crabby is worn out. She’ll get to those other issues she mentioned at the top some other day.


The Numerous Number of Numbers

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today in the Boston Globe, Donald Murray delivers important and touching instructions on how to traverse visiting a loved one in a nursing home. These tips will work equally well for visiting anyone in the hospital for a short stay and are something we should all keep in mind.

Back in 1956, when Crabby Old Lady was a teenager, she lived (before it was chic and rich and oh-so-overly-cute) in the small town of Sausalito, California - one of the last places in the U.S. to get dial telephones.

Answering machines and cell phones were not dreamed of yet, and when Crabby wanted to speak with her best friend, the telephone conversation sometimes went like this:

MILDRED: Operator…

CRABBY: Hi, Mildred. Would you connect me to Judy, please.

MILDRED: She’s not home, Crabby. She waved at me when she walked by the telephone office a few minutes ago. You’ll probably find her at the Tides.

CRABBY: Thanks, Mildred.

Mildred knew everyone in town by voice, appearance and habit, and she was better than any answering machine. Crabby would stroll along the seawall from her house to the Tides Book Shop and that’s where she’d find Judy. Or maybe around the corner in the coffee shop. Or perhaps over at the boat dock. If Mildred was off by 50 or 100 feet, she was usually correct about the general vicinity.

Some of you may be old enough, as Crabby Old Lady is, to remember the good ol’ days when there were only about three personal numbers to memorize: street address, telephone and Social Security. And, possibly, the car license plate. Since then, the number of numbers - and the number of digits in each number - required to navigate modern life has exploded, and they are stretching Crabby’s old brain to its limit.

Telephone Numbers
Crabby’s telephone number back in the 1950s was Sausalito 113. Judy’s was Sausalito 1819. Now, to call even a neighbor takes 11 digits, and Crabby can no longer assume that anyone in town has the same Area Code. She has lost count, but believes there are about nine or ten different Area Codes in New York City, randomly assigned and no longer attached to neighborhoods as they once were when the prefixes had charming names like BUtterfield and ALgonquin.

Every working person, in addition to home telephone and cell phone numbers, now has an additional individual telephone number at their office along with, sometimes, a work cell phone number. That’s four telephone numbers per friend. What’s a Crabby Old Lady to do? And don’t tell her to program the numbers into her telephone. Nowadays, there are two phones – home and cell – to program and Crabby isn’t ever going to commit to that tedious chore more than once.

There was a time, no more than ten years ago, when Crabby knew most of her frequently-called telephone numbers by heart. Now, she’s still struggling to memorize all the numbers for just the two people she calls most often. Maybe this is why we do so much by email and lament that we don’t talk “in person” as much as we once did.

Cable Channel Numbers
Crabby has lately become frustrated, too, with cable television channel numbers. There are hundreds of channels now, most of which Crabby has never seen (who watches all this stuff?), and it is impossible to recall the numbers that go with the channel names. SpikeTV? TRIO? Times Discovery? Crabby can’t find them.

Sometimes Crabby reads of a program she would like to see on one of these channels, but they are listed in the little brochure the cable provider sends out not sensibly in alphabetical order, but in numerical order, in six-point orange type. The weekly, newspaper television guide lists channel numbers, but no names. By the time Crabby finds the channel, the show’s half over.

Then, about once a year, in what must be an altruistic effort to help improve the mental capacities of its subscribers, Time Warner switches channels around and favorites suddenly have new numbers. Crabby is beginning to suspect that falling TV ratings have less to do with the Internet and computer games leeching viewers’ time as the impossibility of finding the right channel before the show ends.

Crabby has only scratched the surface, today, of the too many numbers she is expected to know. There are Zip Codes and radio station frequencies, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, mortgage numbers, check numbers, driver’s license numbers, the pizza delivery number, the doctor, the dentist, the candlestick maker.

What Crabby wants, before brain her locks up, is her own personal Mildred to track all her numbers.


Privatizing Social Security: A Bad Idea

There has been some media chatter in recent days about the privatization of Social Security. It is on President Bush’s agenda, should he be re-elected. Senator Kerry, on the other hand, promises to maintain the entitlement more or less as is if he is elected:

“As president, John Kerry will not raise Social Security taxes, raise the retirement age, cut benefits for people that rely on Social Security, or privatize Social Security.”
- johnkerry.com

In the real world, that is a clear, declarative statement, easy to understand. But this is politics and I don’t believe much of what either candidate says – not just this election year, but any election year. Of the 12 presidents who have served in my lifetime, I never met one who kept his campaign promises. Whether they fibbed or not preceding election day, when presidents are up against the realities of Congress, lobbyists and the imperatives of maintaining their party in power, they go for their political well-being every time. That means satisfying their corporate backers - not you and me.

Therefore, we can dismiss Mr. Kerry’s statement as the same old, same old that comes around every four years, whoever the candidates are. Plenty of other politicians besides Mr. Bush and his crew are promoting privatization, so Mr. Kerry is as likely or not, if elected, to try to privatize Social Security as our current president.

With that in mind, it is important for all of us to think seriously about this issue. And all you need to do that is know that the basic idea of privatization is to allow younger workers to invest in the stock market some or all of the tax that now goes into the Social Security fund.

What I want to know is, are the folks promoting this idea on drugs? Of all the social institutions created in the past hundred years or so, none has been anywhere near as successful as Social Security. Let’s have a little common sense.

  • What makes the system work is that the Social Security fund is safely locked down, away from the vagaries of the market and those who manipulate it.
  • When the stock market crashed in 1929, it took a decade plus an additional four years of war before the economy recovered.
  • The stock market crashed again in 1987. The result was not as devastating as the Great Depression because of safeguards instituted after the 1929 crash, but it wasn’t pretty for a lot of people.
  • There have been many recessions in which the stock market dropped dramatically.
  • What goes down goes back up, but more importantly, vice versa. There will be another crash one day.
  • Even if there were never another crash, no one can tell anyone else which stocks will increase in value and which ones will tank. If the stock market were a sure thing, stockbrokers would all be living on their own private islands not working at all.
  • Corporate executives such as those at Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, etc., who left tens of thousands of older workers with zilch in their portfolios and no income beyond Social Security for their later years, will steal from stockholders again. And again.

Half of America can’t balance its own checkbook, and I can’t see how the government can expect people who need two jobs to afford their mortgages and college educations for their kids to find time to become expert enough to intelligently invest in the stock market. The only people likely to benefit from Social Security privatization are the stock brokerages, which will take their money in up-front fees to advise ordinary investors because they aren’t fools. They know their crystal balls are no better at foreseeing the future than the storefront fortune teller’s down the street here.

The stock market, by definition, is the world’s biggest gambling casino. The only difference between it and Las Vegas is that at least the gambling proprietors are obliged to tell us the odds. Nobody does that on Wall Street.

And nobody gets rich from Social Security. What it has done well, however, for nearly 70 years, is provide a stable, economic floor that has prevented and continues to prevent millions of Americans from falling into poverty in their old age. People are free to invest any of their other money in the stock market or anywhere else, but their Social Security account is their guaranteed safety net.

Social Security was a brilliant idea when it was instituted in 1935, and it is still a brilliant idea. If it needs some tinkering to continue to fulfill its promise, we can do that. But privatization, I believe, is ruse to eventually eliminate it. And that would be a disastrous mistake.

I’m with Mr. John Corbin of Pleasantville, New York, who, in the letters column of The New York Times on Sunday, wrote:

“Perhaps as an experiment we should try privatizing Congressional and presidential pensions for a generation to see how it works out. I don’t wish to see my children be the guinea pigs for an untried and dangerous idea.”

Soggy Chips and Dried Out Bread

Sitting on Crabby Old Lady’s desk is a broken plastic bottle of aspirin. After ten minutes of bruising her thumb trying to push off the adult-proof lid, she resorted to sawing off the top of the bottle with a serrated kitchen knife.

That did the job in under 30 seconds with the added benefit that Crabby avoided the foil liner which is usually glued so tightly to the rim of any bottle of over-the-counter drugs that only a scissor will pierce it. And what’s with the cotton inside, she wants to know. Crabby has relatively small hands, but even she must track down a pair of tweezers to get it out because two fingers won’t fit inside the bottle opening.

When Crabby bitched to a friend about this, he voiced the thought that always crosses Crabby’s mind too when she’s in packaging hell: What am I going to do when I’m really old and weak?

After years of broken fingernails, soggy chips, dried out bread, spilled pills and even bleeding stab wounds, Crabby is convinced that package designers have never used the fruits of their own labor. It must be that they leave headaches untreated, never eat breakfast cereal, don’t listen to music and prefer soggy potato chips to crispy. Or, perhaps there is a conspiracy…

Food boxes come with a nifty, little tab on one side of the cardboard top meant to slip into a little slit on the other side when the box is closed. But that’s just to lull consumers in to a false sense of order in the world. The boxes are so tightly sealed that the top never fails to tear when first opened, rendering the tabs and slits inoperable. It’s a little joke designers like to play.

But they have an even bigger one once the box is ripped. Whatever alien material the bag inside boxes of breakfast cereal is made of could safely store uranium. No amount of pulling will unseal the little ridges at the top until a mighty effort tears the bag from top to bottom scattering the cereal throughout the kitchen. Come to think of it, this must be the sales department’s idea; if you only get one meal out of a $3.95 box, you need to buy more.

As hard as packages are to open, they are impossible to close. Even when a package doesn’t rip or tear - certainly a manufacturing error – it can’t be closed. Those little zipper closures can make a Crabby Old Lady weep trying to get them to match up. The ridges never shut as advertised leaving the package wide open to dry out or humidify the contents – whichever is not desirable.

Crabby considers Haagen Dazs ice cream to be one of the seven major food groups and although she keeps her intake to a low roar, a treat is occasionally in order. Her pleasure, however, is diminished with trying to remove that pesky plastic liner that is impossible to grasp. She assumes the creator of this odious, little annoyance apprenticed with the guy who dreamed up the foil pill bottle liners.

There is no end to the frustrations packaging designers perpetrate. If you can get the super-duper, tempered-steel-like cellophane off a CD, there is then the strip of sticky tape over the top that could hold concrete blocks together. Contemplating opening a CD while still in the store is enough to return Crabby Old Lady to her Napster slut days.

One of the nastiest frustrations is blister packaging, often used to encase small electronic gadgets. Trying to pry one open with scissors is how Crabby ripped open her thumb a couple of years ago. That stuff can’t be cracked with a sledgehammer.

And psychologists wonder why people go postal. Crabby knows.

Using her unparalleled investigative skills, Crabby has uncovered the existence of the hitherto unknown annual Packaging Designers Academy Awards. With the Academy’s password of the day, retrieved from the prize in a specially marked package of Cracker Jacks, she was able to sneak into a secret, underground auditorium and blend in with the crowd during the Academy’s most recent awards ceremony.

Anticipation grew throughout the evening as the mundane awards for Tightest Bottle Cap, Most Useless Zipper Closure and Least Airtight Container were handed out leading up to the big award of the night. The tension, by then, was so great even Crabby was sucked in to the excitement. The orchestra beat out a drum roll as the presenter made his way down the massive staircase and strode to the center-stage microphone. He cleared his throat.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen,” intoned the previous year’s winner, “the moment you have been waiting for. The most coveted award the Academy bestows, the one so many come close to but so few achieve. Are you ready?”

He broke the wax seal and unfolded the stiff, vellum page. The Academy members leaned forward in their seats. “The nominees” he read out, “for The Packaging That Caused the Most Home Suicides this year are…”


Job Hunting Ain’t For (Old) Sissies

category_bug_ageism.gif A friend, like me, is looking for work. He is a much higher-level management sort than I am, specializing in a particular high-tech area, and he was contacted recently by a headhunter, a company that screens and selects candidates for corporate recruiters. Among their free services (they are paid by the companies for which they recruit) are resume optimizing, interview coaching and a day-long session to help selected candidates pinpoint exactly what they are looking for.

When my friend – let’s call him Dave – went to the headhunter’s offices last week for his first meeting, he was left sitting in the reception area as the clock ticked past the time of his appointment and beyond. While he was there, a man stuck his head through a door, looked around and retreated.

When he had been waiting longer than he felt necessary, Dave asked the receptionist to check on his appointment. The same man who had peeked in earlier immediately came out to greet Dave. In his apology, the man said he had surmised, from Dave’s resume, that he was about 50 years old – which he is – but that Dave looks 10 or 15 years younger. So he had assumed Dave was someone else.

“You don’t look your age,” he told Dave. “That’s good.”

The recruiter wasn’t saying Dave couldn’t be hired if he looked his age, but he was acknowledging – first thing – that it is better to be young looking than not.

This reminded me of an experience I had several years ago, last time I was looking for work.

I had a preliminary, hour-long, telephone conversation with a man from the human resources department of a company to which I had sent a note and resume. The job was interesting and it was something I knew I could do well. By the end of the conversation, it was obvious we were happy about one another and eager to meet. It was late afternoon and he asked if I could be at their offices first thing the next morning, 10AM, to meet with him and several colleagues.

Arriving at the appointed hour, I was kept waiting in the reception area, like Dave, past the time of my appointment. During that period, three people poked their heads through the door for a few moments and disappeared back inside.

Finally, the 20-something young man I’d spoken with on the telephone, who had been one of the folks who peeked at me, invited me in. He gave me a quick tour of the Website’s bullpen where there was not a soul older than 30, and then apologized for not calling me earlier that morning. The position, he was sorry to say, had been filled.

The hiring had happened, apparently, between 4PM on the day of our conversation and 10AM the following morning.

The late actress, Bette Davis, who had suffered in a period of 13 months, a stroke, a double mastectomy and a broken shoulder, famously said, “Old age ain’t for sissies.” She was correct and neither is looking for work when you are older than 40.


Old Age is the Best Time For Outrage

EDITOR’S NOTE: Donald Murray, in his Boston Globe column, is writing today about the importance of silence and listening to our inner selves.

Among the quotes about getting older posted here recently is one from Maggie Kuhn, a feisty old lady I was lucky enough to meet several times who, in 1970, founded the Gray Panthers, a national organization of intergenerational activists dedicated to social change:

“Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week.”

In our younger and mid-adult years, life is busy. Just raising children and building careers can fill every day. And that is how it should be - then. But when the children are on their own and careers are at their peak or, depending on one’s age, waning, there is time to pay attention to larger issues. When David Wolfe was discussing Carl Jung’s seven tasks of aging at Ageless Marketing, he had this to say about number four, Letting Go of the Ego:

“…letting go of the ego enhances personal well being by taking one to new and higher levels of life satisfaction. Beyond that, research has indicated beyond dispute that getting beyond the self to turn more attention to helping others improves the efficiency of the immune system. People who help others simply tend to live longer and healthier than those who stay wrapped up inside themselves.”

That’s the selfish, though still excellent, reason to work for change. An even better one is that in our later years, we have more time than our children, who are busy in their own midlives, to speak out against the issues and policies of our governments, corporations and others which we believe are a detriment to the future of our world. I would go so far as to say that it is our duty and responsibility to do so - to contribute our time, talent and ideas to help leave the world a better place for future generations.

There are plenty of issues – large and small – to be outraged about. This morning, in an email newsletter I subscribe to, there is a biased phrase about older folks gratuitously inserted in a story about, of all things, software. It took five minutes to fire off a polite but insistent email about it, and although it is hardly a big-deal transgression, that statement is living out there on Web reinforcing, in its small way, the notion that older folks are deficient. And that is unacceptable.

Contrary to what this blog implies, ageism is only one issue that outrages me. And because old age is, as Maggie said, an excellent time “to do or say one outrageous thing a week,” I’ve come to believe now that in aging responsibly, we are duty-bound to speak up and speak out when our culture seems to have lost its moorings. We can take the heat off younger folks by being the watchdogs and caretakers of the world while they are busy with their families and careers, and until it is their turn.

The third line of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 has always seemed to imply that “to plant” is virtue of the early stages of life. I’m suggesting now that the best season for planting is our old age, when we have the time to make a difference.

For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to reap;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep , and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love , and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace.

Think on These

The great thing about a good quote is that it is larger than the sum of its parts; it leaves much room for personal interpretation and long rumination leading who knows where – an adventure of the mind.

These and many more have been collected, a few at a time, in a file on my computer for years. I have hundreds of them, some better than others and vice versa. Although favorites change now and again, here are a few, for your weekend rumination, that currently speak to me. What about you?

“The hardest years of life are those between ten and seventy.”

- Helen Hayes (at age 73)

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”

- Satchel Paige

“Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.”

- Fred Astaire

“One of the many things nobody ever tells you about middle age is that it’s such a nice change from being young.”

- Dorothy Canfield Fisher

“Youth is a gift of nature, but age is a work of art.”

- Garson Kanin

“Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week.”

- Maggie Kuhn

“When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”

- Eleanor Roosevelt

“If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos, you will gain a sense of continuity and of the possibility for a full life.”

- Margaret Mead

“If you take all the experience and judgment of men over 50 out of the world, there wouldn’t be enough left to run it.”

- Henry Ford

“No wise man ever wished to be younger.”

- Jonathan Swift

“Being seventy is not a sin.”

- Golda Meir

“It spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in a small way.”

- Edith Wharton


Minor Disappointments

category_bug_ageism.gif Instead of the usual essay, today there are couple of shorter items.

Damning With Faint Praise
A writer for myrtlebeachonline begins his piece titled Ageism? No, the problem might be age with a mild acknowledgement of ageism:

“…I don’t question for a minute the idea that American society has plenty of built-in bias against senior citizens. But I can happily report that, as far as I know, I have never been a victim of ageism.”

He continues with a list of minor predicaments that can be associated with aging, but which affect younger people too: misplaced glasses, night blindness, slow reflexes and his greater interest in crossword puzzles than the Playboy centerfold. Each item is followed with the repetition of the phrase, “That’s not ageism. That’s age.”

Nothing on his list has the remotest association with ageism. It is a false construction comparing apples and oranges.

He again repeats his catchphrase after telling us about refusing a friend’s suggestion they learn scuba diving together because, he says, “…in my advanced years, I would not have many opportunities to dive.”

And that, dear readers, is ageism. To promulgate the idea that in our later years we should forego learning new skills because our time left is shorter than younger folks is absurd, and it perpetuates the notion, in the case of his dumb excuse, that older folks aren't too bright either.

Ageism can be subtle. It hides in all kinds of unexpected places - even in newspaper stories that purport to be about its opposite. Because published thoughts and ideas have more power to influence than what we say in social conversation, it is incumbent on all who publish, whether in the mighty The New York Times or this man's obscure, little publication, to get it right.

Missing Links
Two links have been removed from the Older Bloggers list on the left rail. One is gone because the owner moved the blog to a new URL and instead of posting a link, asked regular readers to send an email requesting the new address.

Although the post is now gone from the home page of the old URL, I seem to remember an announcement that she wants to write a more personal blog for a select few, so it appears she is no longer inviting a general audience. Thus, the link removal.

The second deletion is disturbing. Regrettably, the owner of a blog which I otherwise find charming, erudite and interesting has used an unacceptable slur referring to a Jew. It was not from ignorance, but a deliberate choice to include the word, and that is not tolerable here. Although Time Goes By is limited to defense against ageism, all prejudice against any group is unwelcome.


Get Out the Granny Vote

Grannyvoterlogo It has been difficult for Crabby Old Lady, who has strong political views, to have established this forum and be required by the constraints of her topic to keep her mouth shut about the current presidential campaign. Now, thanks to eight fine old grannies, some of whom have been politicians themselves, Crabby has an excellent reason to speak up.

These women have created GrannyVoters, “a movement to encourage grandparents to speak out as trustees of the future by voting on behalf of their grandchildren on Election Day 2004.” One founder, former Denver congresswoman, Pat Schroeder, is angry. She doesn’t want “some whippersnapper politician,” as she told a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, to “tell her what issues to care about.”

“Part of that ageism,” Ms. Shroeder continues, “stems from how you’re viewed in the political arena as a bunch of greedy old grannies. All of us were frustrated with the shortsightedness of politicians when they talk to people our age. It’s all about how much our pills cost.”
- Rocky Mountain News, 13 September 2004

Rather, the high-profile grannies say, they are concerned about the legacy they will leave behind for their grandchildren, and therefore their concerns run wider and deeper than Social Security and prescription drug benefits. As they say on their Website:

“We know the decisions American leaders make today will shape the lives of our grandchildren over the next decades. That is why in November, we plan to GrannyVote – make our choices with our grandchildren’s future in mind.”

What a fine idea. Crabby couldn’t have said it better herself.

To be clear, GrannyVoters is non-partisan. They do not endorse or support any political party or candidate and they are not one of those 527 organizations that have bombarded us with the slime campaign. This is a movement anyone of any political stripe – and any age - can get behind.

Crabby urges you to visit the GrannyVoters Website, sign up for their newsletter (they won’t sell your name and email address) and tell your friends. Oh, and be sure you’re registered so you can GrannyVote in November.


A Remarkable Transformation

EDITOR'S NOTE: In a remarkable coincidence, Donald Murray, in the Boston Globe today, is also writing about the changing seasons of life. Don't miss it.

category_bug_ageism.gif The idea for this blog, “what it’s really like to get older,” came about several years ago. Time and tide being what they are, its birth was postponed until sometime in March 2004. The number of entries picked up in April and May, and by June, it had become a functional, five-day-a-week publishing venture fully committed to by me and my cohort, Crabby Old Lady.

We two old women brought to this project a lot of ideas and enthusiasm with a soupcon of controlled rage and years of research into aging and ageism. The stacks of books around our house and piles of paper overfloweth.

What was not clear, in the beginning, was our own freedom from belief in the stereotypical myths about age perpetrated by the youth-and-beauty police, those oppressive imperatives so deeply embedded in the culture that even Crabby and I might be unaware of their insinuation into our subconscious and behavior.

In writing about getting older five days a week for the past few months, Crabby and I have made a conscious effort from day one to use the words old and older (no matter how much we might desire a few more synonyms), rather than such cutesy euphemisms as golden ager, third ager or oldster and certainly not the downright offensive such as geezer, coot and biddy.

And now a remarkable thing has happened: we have lost the internal association with disparagement the words old and older invoke in the culture at large. By the relentless use of these words, we have removed from our consciousness their power to devalue, and we have discovered for ourselves what all marketers and advertisers know: repetition works.

Language is powerfully symbolic and the repeated use of verbal memes over decades hardens perception – for good or ill. When I have had reason, on occasion, to answer a question with “Because I’m old,” the knee-jerk reaction from the other person – of any age – is “Oh, you’re not old.” It never fails; it never varies. Sometimes, nowadays, I use that answer when I don’t really need it just to test how deeply planted the culture’s fear of aging is. It is so great that everyone feels the need to reassure me, as though their own eyes deceive them.

Crabby and I dislike it when people tell us we are not old. We are well into our seventh decade and we’ve never been this old before. We find it fascinating, perhaps because old people, in a society that makes a fetish of denying age, are mysterious. We are determined to lift the veil.

Many people in my age group tell me, “I don’t feel old.” But that, Crabby and I believe, is a habitual reaction to a lifelong bombardment of the use of the word old as a pejorative. Of course, they feel old, particularly physically. There are aches and pains they didn’t have ten years ago. They can’t run for the bus as fast as they once did. They tire more easily.

What they really mean when they say they don’t feel old is that they still become excited about something new in ways that feel similar to childhood. They still fall in love – and out of it, sometimes – as they did in their youth. They feel the pull of their passions as fully and strongly as they always have.

But until they admit to themselves that they are old, until they free themselves from the cultural stigma of the language, they can’t rejoice in what getting older is really like. It is a time when a splendid, new sensibility creeps in, after about age 50, and continues to grow as the years pass by: Crabby and I have never felt more vibrantly alive, more assured of our self-worth, of our ability to contribute. Ideas are more exciting than they have ever been. We have a newly-found sense that this time of our life really is better than it’s ever been.

And isn’t that how life should progress – if our culture didn’t fall victim to viewing age as only a period of debility and senility?

Being old is an exhilarating, new experience. But the language of aging, if we do not improve it, will deprive every one of us, as we get older, of our ability to recognize and savor it.

Part of the solution is to strip our language of the negative association we attach to words that describe aging and older people. We can each be responsible for that in our lives and the lives of those around us. As the marketers know, if you say it often enough, it becomes true.

It is working for Crabby and me and it’s fun to watch now, as I throw around the word old as easily and un-self consciously as the word young, the surprised look on the faces of people who haven’t made the remarkable transformation yet.

Crabby Old Lady and I would like to leave you today with a statement [PDF] Dr. Robert M. Butler made to Congress two years ago this month. Dr. Butler is a professor of geriatrics at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, the man who in 1968, coined the term “ageism.” After an impassioned plea to the senators at the hearing on changing the image of aging in America, he ended his statement thusly:

“…our nation must alter our deep-seated fear, our shunned responsibility, and harmful avoidance and denial of age. Our conscience should be burdened by our obligations to those who have gone before us.

“Strict legislation and enforcement against age discrimination and elder abuse are essential but insufficient. We must change how we think, feel and behave about late life. We must help people deal with their fears of aging, dependency and death. We must have a sense of the life course as a whole.

“Our family life, our educational system and our media must help transform our sensibility, and moral values held by each of us must drive this transformation of the culture and experience of aging in America, and beyond.

“We are in the midst of a wonderful new world of longevity. It is in our power to make it a celebration.”



Crabby's TV Blues

After slaving over a cold job market to prepare for what feels like this week’s coming exercise in futility, Crabby Old Lady rewarded herself Sunday evening with plans to watch a movie, Return to Paradise, which she had meant to see in a theater in 1998, but missed.

This is not a film review. It would be impossible to fairly critique this or any movie from watching it on commercial television. Such is the state of the consumer society on the tube that only victims of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder could claim enjoyment. In fact, Crabby has speculated in the past that there is a high degree of possibility that television watching, particularly beginning at an early age, plays a large part in the increased incidence of AD/HD, a suspicion further confirmed last night.

Crabby had settled down in her favorite raggedy, flannel nightie – the better to fall asleep directly following the film – with a bowl of lusciously ripe, red raspberries she had been saving for the event. The movie began, and she felt her gradual envelopment in the story, that lovely experience of leaving daily cares behind and losing oneself completely in another world for two hours. So deep was her immersion over 20 minutes or so that she was shocked silly when the first commercial break appeared, ripping her out of Malaysia and into a raucous, hip-hop advertisement for iPod.

She was equally disoriented for a few moments when, ten commercials and three minutes later, she was abruptly returned to the less frantic rhythm of what she believes may be a well-made movie, though it was a struggle, throughout the next hour and 40 minutes, to maintain her concentration as the commercials disrupted the flow of the story with increasing frequency, allowing shorter periods of drama between advertisements.

To compound the distraction, these days, commercials continue even during the show. It began about 10 or 15 years ago with that little bug in the upper or lower right corner to tell viewers what channel they are watching. It has progressed now to a steady stream of animated, mini-promos for upcoming programs that cover a full one-quarter of the screen.

And don’t even get Crabby started on the crawl at the bottom of CNN’s and other news channels' screens. The human brain can read or it can listen. It cannot do both. Crabby has even heard of folks who cover the bottom of their screens with tape to reduce the clutter and Crabby predicts that the next development in these assaults on viewers’ overloaded senses will be audio. It is already happening. In one repeated promo – at several dramatic moments in the movie - a swoosh sound was used just in case Crabby missed the flashy animation as the promo swooped into view.

For the more than twenty years Crabby was employed in the television industry, her salary was paid by commercials and she understands the economic trade-off viewers make between commercials and programs, but surely it has gone too far now. It is not a new observation to note that programming has become a minor interruption from commercials.

Couldn’t television executives have the wit to perhaps make a distinction between sitcoms and reality shows whose rhythms match those of commercials, and theatrical movies which are carefully crafted to be viewed in one, longer exposure? Crabby already pays the outrageous sum of $75 per month for cable access to television. The increasing assault on her poor old brain is becoming unconscionable. Where will it end?

Although Crabby’s reward to herself for the day’s diligent work on her employment future turned out to be a disappointment, she did winkle out enough of the continuity to recommend Return to Paradise, but not without resolving to cancel her cable subscription.

Do any of you know if there is a service or product by which Crabby Old Lady could listen to the audio only of news television and give up the rest of it altogether?


The Value of a Mixed Age Workplace

category_bug_ageism.gif If you haven’t taken Professor Palmore’s Facts on Aging Quiz posted here on Thursday, it would be a good idea to do that. Anyone concerned with age discrimination in the workplace – and that should mean everyone - needs to be grounded in those facts. Age discrimination is every bit as immoral as discrimination aimed at race, gender, religion and sexual orientation, but there are business reasons too for hiring older workers.

Here are some qualities older workers bring to the workplace, advantages recognized by the few who advocate for and are engaged in employing older people:

Reliability
Older workers show up on time and take fewer sick days than younger workers

Experience

Older workers have years and years of practice at what they do

Stability

There is less job turnover among older workers than younger workers

Productivity

Older workers' productivity is equal to or better than younger workers

Advancement

Older workers are less concerned with moving up in the organization

Have we settled this now? Older workers bring experience to the job, a strong work ethic and they set an example for younger workers.

Lest any reader think we propose that younger workers be displaced for older ones, we lobby at Time Goes By for hiring the best person for the job, whatever their age. Most organizations need a variety of skills and skill levels. When a position requires judgment, speed or understanding of complexity that only experience can bring, an older worker is usually the better choice. When the job is simpler and offers opportunities to learn the basics and grow, a younger person could be the choice. This requires a level playing field in which all candidates are judged on their abilities, not on whether their hair is gray or green.

All workplaces benefit from intergenerational hiring. How can younger workers learn without experienced guides? When I was managing editor at cbsnews.com, a young producer, in a rush to meet a deadline, skidded to a stop at my desk and asked, “Which came first, Ronni, the Civil War or World War I?” I’d have had to look it up if the question had been about the English Civil Wars and the War of the Roses but the answer - and many others over the years - was on the tip of my tongue just because I’ve lived longer. We saved time and we saved embarrassment for her and the Website if she had got it wrong.

Another time, a young graphics artist created an image to illustrate a story about a shooting in the South by superimposing a handgun on a Confederate flag. He was too young and inexperienced in the news business yet to realize the biased implications of that image and I caught it before it was posted. These are just two, simple, everyday examples of reasons to employ experienced, older folks. The stakes can be much higher.

It is not unusual for the teaching and guidance go both ways. Young people I worked with at that job and at other Websites have taught me a lot about html, javascript, css and other tools without which this blog would be unreadable. But more important to the job, I learned enough to inform my editorial decisions, and a bonus was that I could help out with coding when we were in crunch time, even if I wasn’t as accomplished as they are.

Contrary to what age-biased recruiters and hiring managers believe, older people are full of new ideas. And so are young workers who often can introduce older colleagues to fresh perspectives while the older ones can reduce wheel spinning when an idea has been tried and failed. Speed, they tell us, is a hallmark of the "new economy," and working together, younger and older employees can only improve their individual output and increase the organization's profits.

Corporate America is rightly concerned with their bottom line. Their mistake is in believing that only younger people have anything to contribute to it. Some say that age discrimination begins as young, these days, as 35, particularly for women. What are these folks smoking? At that age, a worker has had about ten or 12 years to get up to speed and is just hitting her stride. Who in their right mind would jettison that learning and experience? And she is even better in another 20 or 25 years.

There is another important reason to ensure that the workplace includes people of all ages. Because we spend more waking hours with our coworkers than we do with our families, there is the opportunity to know what people of other generations are really like. Most of us tend to hang out with people near our own age because we think we have little in common with others. It isn’t true.

Because I’ve worked almost exclusively with those who are 20, 30 and more years younger than I am for the past decade, I now count people considerably younger than I am among my friends. They keep me abreast of cultural shifts I might not notice without them, give me insight into their political realm and sometimes too, they introduce me to new music I would ignore on my own - even kinds I can tolerate. They involve me in their personal lives and they enrich my life. They are not strangers – or strange – to me.

In fact, this blog would not exist without the encouragement of one 30-year old friend, Aaron Wertheim. Another, Freddie LaSenna, donated his design talents to the Time Goes By banner and the rest of this site. Yet another, Lori Rodriguez, suggested the topic for today's story.

A mixed age workplace benefits everyone – the organization, the workers and, I believe, society at large. Without older people in the workplace, in numbers matching younger people, corporate America is losing valuable experience that can improve their bottom line, and we are impoverishing ourselves personally – young and old alike.


Professor Palmore’s Amazing Facts on Aging Quiz

category_bug_ageism.gif To combat ageism at large and age discrimination in the workplace, some myths about older people must be dispelled. 74-year-old Erdman Palmore, professor emeritus at Duke University, has spent a lifetime studying aging and fighting ageism, and he is still at it.

"What makes me mad is how aging, in our language and culture, is equated with deterioration and impairment," he said. "I don't know how we're going to root that out, except by making people more aware of it."
The Detroit News, 5 September 2004

In 1976, Professor Palmore developed a quiz to help people realize some of their prejudices about older people. Twenty-eight years later we still need this quiz. So embedded in our culture are the beliefs it tests, even older folks get some wrong.

In preparation for an ongoing discussion of age discrimination here, let’s all take Professor Palmore’s quiz. Keep in mind that people age at widely varying rates, and the quiz applies to older people in general. The statements are taken from Palmore's book, The Facts on Aging Quiz.

Here goes. Answer True or False for each statement.

  1. The majority of old people – age 65-plus – are senile.
  2. The five senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell) all tend to weaken in old age.
  3. The majority of old people have no interest in, nor capacity for, sexual relations.
  4. Lung vital capacity tends to decline with old age.
  5. The Majority of old people feel miserable most of the time.
  6. Physical strength tends to decline with age.
  7. At least one-tenth of the aged are living in long-stay institutions such as nursing homes, mental hospital and homes for the aged.
  8. Aged drivers have fewer accidents per driver than those under age 65.
  9. Older workers usually cannot work as effectively as younger workers.
  10. More than three-fourths of the aged are healthy enough to do their normal activities without help.
  11. The majority of old people are unable to adapt to change.
  12. Older people usually take longer to learn something new.
  13. Depression is more frequent among the elderly than among younger people.
  14. Older people tend to react slower than younger people.
  15. In general, old people tend to be pretty much alike.
  16. The majority of old people say they are seldom bored.
  17. The majority of older people are socially isolated.
  18. Older workers have fewer accidents than younger workers.
  19. More than 20 percent of the population is now 65 and older.
  20. The majority of medical practitioners tend to give low priority to the aged.
  21. The majority of old people have incomes below the poverty line, as defined by the U.S. federal government.
  22. The majority of old people are working or would like to have some kind of work to do, including housework and volunteer work.
  23. Old people tend to become more religious as they age.
  24. The majority of old people say they are seldom irritated or angry.
  25. The health and economic status of old people will be about the same or worse in the year 2010, compared with younger people.

Answers: All odd-numbered statements are False. All even-numbered statements are True.

How well did you do? It is worth reading these explanations for each statement.

We can all help battle ageism. When someone repeats a myth in your presence, set them straight. When you read a misconception in a newspaper or magazine, or hear one on television or radio, let them know you object. It's easy to do with email - all media have an online presence. And while you're at it, challenge them to take this quiz. Send them this permalink.


Crabby Old Lady - A Poem

This poem is floating around the Web here and there. According to some, it was found among the "meager possessions" of an old woman who died in the geriatric ward of a Dundee, Scotland hospital, and was later published in the News Magazine of the North Ireland Association for Mental Health.

That all may be apocryphal. I can't find any reference, except in relation to the poem, of the publication or its organization. Those who retrieved the poem did not record the woman's name nor is there a year attached, but that is not important. This is a cry from the heart, whoever wrote it, to not be made invisible in old age.

It would do us all well to remember this poem when we are frustrated by someone old moving too slowly in front of us and when we find ourselves with an older relative or friend whose mind is perhaps not as quick as it once was.

What do you see, nurses, what do you see,
what are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes.

Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
when you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
and forever is losing a stocking or shoe.

Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will
with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you're thinking? Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse; you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
as I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother,
brothers and sisters, who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet,
dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.
A bride soon at twenty - my heart gives a leap,
remembering the vows that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now, I have young of my own
who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast,
bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,
but my man's beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty once more babies play round my knee,
again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead;
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
and I think of the years and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old woman and nature is cruel;
'tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
there is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
and now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
and I'm loving and living life over again.

I think of the years - all too few, gone too fast
and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see,
not a crabby old woman; look closer - see ME!


I Am Julia Roberts

category_bug_journal2.gif An American girl learns, as early as her pre-teen years, that if she is not a natural beauty – as defined by the producers of movies, television and Seventeen magazine - she is required by the youth-and-beauty police to do everything possible to enhance her best features and play down her worst. Not too much later than age 12 or 13 these days, that involves cosmetic surgery. Yes, even teens undergo the knife to “improve” their appearance.

In my youth, such procedures were unavailable to women who were not wealthy and it was shocking to hear of the rare child who had her ears “pinned back” or nose reshaped. With or without those extreme measures, our ordinary method of enhancement involves the diligent application of cosmetics. It is astonishing how proficient we women become at creating, for example, the illusion of cheekbones Mother Nature denied us, and I was an enthusiastic participant.

I wanted to be pretty, and I wasn’t. Or, at least, I wasn’t by the standards of Hollywood which establishes our criteria for beauty. I was particularly disturbed by my freckles which were considered merely cute – never beautiful – and I didn’t think my eyes were shaped the way they “should” be. When I was about ten and was experimenting one day with makeup with some school friends, an “older” girl, who was probably about 12 (named Olive; I never forgot that or what she said), told me my lips were too small.

And so I became expert at applying cosmetics to push my appearance as close to the prevailing definition of beautiful as possible – and that is a time-consuming task each morning. But so brainwashed was I that beginning in high school and ever after, I would not leave the house – not even for a quick trip to the deli – unless I was in full war paint.

I have envied women who can walk out into the world barefaced and fully confident. Who can skip the 20-minute preparation routine. Who can just be – and be happy about it. In my extreme youth, I admired Loretta Young for that kind of look. Later, it was Katharine Hepburn. And for the past decade or so, it has been Julia Roberts.

Peel away the movie makeup and she is still gorgeous. She has never looked at a beautiful woman across a room and thought, “I should just put a bag over my head.” If Ms. Roberts is inclined to go to the corner for the newspaper, she has never said to herself, “Oh, damn. Gotta put on my makeup first.”

Many times I have asked myself what it could be like to be Julia Roberts, to be free always of the constant concern, every day, for my appearance.

There comes a time in getting older when a woman gradually spends less time hanging out at the cosmetic counters hoping to find the one new product that will turn her into Julia Roberts. After a while, the cosmetics shelf in the bathroom isn’t quite as crowded as it once was. And it soon follows that applying makeup every morning comes to feel tedious. Then one day, as I did a couple of years ago, you meet a friend for coffee – without any makeup at all.

And nothing happened. No one pointed fingers. The waiter didn’t refuse to take my order. I was not shunned in the street. And since then, I have reserved makeup - pared down to the minimum needed to smooth out blotchiness and add a small amount of color - for business and dress-up social occasions.

It has taken 50 years but at last I can leave the house without thinking about my appearance. Woohoo - I have achieved my goal: I am Julia Roberts.


Crimes Against Older Workers

category_bug_ageism.gif

“Age discrimination is real. We know it anecdotally from readers we’ve heard from who’ve been blatantly discriminated against because they’re older. We know it from legal cases…And we know it from statistics.”
- Katharine Hansen, quintessentialcareers.com

I didn’t need Ms. Hansen to tell me that. I know it from past research, and all too painfully from personal experience. During a period of unemployment that lasted from July 2000 through September 2001, I was humiliated, demeaned and mostly ignored by recruiters and the hiring managers of corporate America.

In the end, it was a former employer who happened to be staffing up at a new job of her own who got me off the street. Networking, telephone calls, individually tailored resumes, carefully crafted cover letters, extensive research into companies I was interested in, and newer job search techniques such as those my friend Nick Corcodilos at Ask the Headhunter recommends – none of it did any good. I may as well have flushed 99 percent of my efforts down the toilet because not once did I get anywhere near being hired.

Since then, similar horror stories and worse from friends and acquaintances abound. Some, with skills in their fields far surpassing mine in my field, have depleted their savings, been forced to accept early retirement benefits and to sell their homes to meet the basic needs of life.

And yet, the current unemployment rate, at 5.4 percent, is what, in economic times more robust than ours, has been considered acceptable. I have found jobs within a reasonable length of time in the past when the rate was higher, but I was younger then. My last job search, my friends’ experiences and continuing news reports that corporate America is not hiring are deeply disturbing for my employment future.

With all that in mind, I decided to bone up on job search advice for older workers before I set out on this gut-wrenching mission to find work.

What I found:

  • There is more acknowledgement of age discrimination than when I last checked four years ago.
  • All but the slightest percentage of the advice is to ignore it.
  • Not one suggested that corporate America mend it ways toward older workers.
  • General job seeking advice for older workers is smug, condescending and designed to keep older workers out of mainstream employment.

The consensus attitude toward older workers - including that of employers, their recruiters, consultants and other agents – is morally indefensible, discriminatory on its face, and not one thing I read in more than a hundred online sources will help get my resume past officious gatekeepers to someone who might thoughtfully consider it, let alone actually meet with me.

Following are representative examples of advice for older workers from the writers for job banks, from human resources experts, recruiters and consultants – the “experts” who are in the business of supplying workers to corporate America. The list is long because attitudes are repellent and the quantity of it is shocking.

RESUMES

“De-emphasize dates...Omit college-graduation dates that are more than 10-15 years old. Some experts even advise omitting dates from the listing of your jobs, instead just listing the number of years you were in each job.”

- Katharine Hansen, quintessentialcareers.com
“Leave accomplishments more than 10 years old off your resume and avoid mentioning them in interviews…”
- Valerie Lipow, monster.com
“Consider using a functional resume rather than a chronological resume.”

      - Alison Doyle, about.com

All the “experts” recommend, even insist, on these tactics, but to do so is to lie. They are an attempt to fool the hiring manager into thinking the applicant is younger than he or she is, and it doesn’t work anyway. Everyone knows no dates means old, and a shortened resume becomes ludicrous the minute an older worker walks in the door.

I wear my 63 years proudly along with my 47 years of valuable experience. With the exception of my earliest years in the workforce and some later, interim jobs that have no relevance, every job I’ve had has contributed to the knowledge and expertise I carried with me to later jobs, as each informed the next along the way. It is insulting to be told they don’t matter.

Worst of all, this advice is itself age biased, and to follow it is to become complicit in age discrimination against oneself.

INTERVIEWS - GENERAL

“…you have to do more than younger workers would need to do to show yourself as a value-added employee.”

- Katharine Hansen, quintessentialcareers.com
“You have to keep your energy level up while talking to recruiters and interviewers. Fast talkers win. Think in Internet speed. Long pauses may very well undermine your presentation and eliminate you from consideration.”
- Krista Bradford, quoted in Aging Gracefully in the New Economy
“During an interview…Include hobbies or interests that show you are on an equal footing or competitive in environments with younger people.”
- Valerie Lipow, monster.com

I have hired a hundred or more workers over the years and know this is all bad advice. It is self-evident from our appearance alone that older workers have more experience than younger folks who may need to give a little extra to prove their their ability to do the job. Talking fast is such a bizarre idea, it might have been written by a Martian. And hobbies belong at home.

INTERVIEWS – YOUNG HIRING MANAGERS

“…a younger hiring manager might be intimidated by your experience or be uncomfortable supervising someone older.”

- Terryn Barill, techrepublic.com
“The IT worker is over 50 – maybe even over 60. And hiring managers don’t look at him and see experience and know-how. They look at him and think that managing him will be like trying to manage their father. They look at him and think he’s too old to be imaginative or to be up on cutting-edge technology."
- Sharon Gaudin, itmanagement.com
“Being interviewed by someone much younger than you can add unexpected stress…and many interviewers are skilled at masking their personal thoughts and feelings. So it’s quite possible that an older candidate can test a younger person’s core beliefs about aging. Be prepared for the possibility of encountering trick interview questions or having to address unspoken biases.”
- Linda Wiener, monster.com
“Pay attention to small details like bifocals perched on the end of your nose. Looking over them at a young recruiter may make her see you as a grandparent instead of as a peer.”
- Candace Moody, Is 50 Over the Hill?

Okay, I admit it - that last one is too stupid to talk about. I threw it in just because its brainlessness is funny - in addition to being as offensive as the others.

All of the above attitudes are morally reprehensible and if present in a hiring manager, he or she must be immediately dismissed by any responsible corporation or at minimum, removed from the hiring process along with any executive or recruiter who condones them.

It is not the candidate’s job to allay a young manager’s fear of nor debunk his mythical beliefs about older people, but these attitudes are rampant and too much of the advice is to overlook the manager’s inexperience. Well, not when my employment is at risk because of it. It is the corporation’s responsibility to see that the playing field is level. It is illegal not to do so.

And to be fair, I hope it is not necessary to remind older readers to be sure to check your own prejudices about younger people. If you’re uncomfortable working for a young manager, get over it. I have worked for younger bosses for 15 years and they are as talented at managing, or not, as their older counterparts.

APPEARANCE

“If your hairstyle (or color) or wardrobe needs an update, do it.”

- Candace Moody, Is 50 Over the Hill
“…think about presenting a youthful appearance. Trying to appear as young as possible or as healthy as possible is a natural reflex.”
- Krista Bradford, quoted in Aging Gracefully in the New Economy
“…consider coloring gray hair, mustaches or beards; consider contacts or more modern, light-framed glasses; consider cosmetic surgery to remove deep wrinkles, loose skin on neck and chin areas, bags under eyes, crow’s feet or to removed ‘age spots’ on hands, face and arms.”
- Dorman L. Wood, Job Search For the 50 and Older Candidate

Every word of these is insulting, demeaning, disrespectful, without merit and in the case of cosmetic surgery, possibly life threatening. There is nothing wrong with looking one’s age and it is unrelated to talent, experience, motivation and accomplishment. As David Wolfe said in his Ageless Marketing blog:

“It’s absurd how we dodge the issue of aging in our society by doing all we can to deny its reality.”

It is more than absurd. To perpetuate America’s fascination with youth by suggesting a young appearance is a requirement to be hired at all is a moral failure on the part of the entire country. We are all responsible for changing it.

SALARY AND OTHER NITTY-GRITTY

“Match your salary expectation with the job and your relevant experience. No new employer can afford a birthday premium, or paying you just for your years of working.”

- Candace Moody, Is 50 Over the Hill
“…while some laid-off older workers find comparable jobs, many accept pay cuts of up to 20 percent just to return to work. The good news is that older workers may have fewer financial obligations than younger colleagues. Children are out of college, and the home may be paid for.”
- Dan Woog, monster.com
“Consider offering to put in odd hours that younger workers with family obligations might not be able to work.”
- Katharine Hansen, quintcareers.com
“[Older workers] also might have more time to devote to the job that younger workers with young kids just might not have.”
- Sharon Gaudin, datamation.com

No one is asking for a so-called birthday premium and a worker’s financial obligations are irrelevant to pay scale. To suggest that an older worker can and should be paid less on the basis of age alone is no less discriminatory than when, prior to the fight for women’s rights in the 1960s and 1970s, women were paid less than men for the same job because – so the excuse went - men were family breadwinners and women were dabbling. That is now illegal and so is paying older workers less based solely on age.

SENIOR-FRIENDLY EMPLOYERS

“Banking is predicted to have many openings for older workers, Davis says. So are businesses that rely on customer service, such as call centers.”

- Dan Woog, monster.com
“Look [for jobs] in the non-profit or public sector, Miller advises, “where age is not as much of an issue [and the pay is low].”
- Christopher Jones, hotjobs.com
“…many senior citizens have been given the chance to work again. Tom Greeley, 60, former business development manager, is now a paint mixer at Home Depot…”
- Catrine Johanson, diversityworking.com

These appear to have been written with a straight face, but make no mistake: each one is an example of age discrimination, pure and simple, assuming that older workers are capable or deserving of only entry-level, minimum-wage jobs they should be grateful for.

Please, someone, tell me why an older worker should not expect to be hired in his field at a level commensurate with his or her ability. What are all those years of accumulated experience for if not the betterment of the next employer’s business? The assumptions behind these statements reveal a culture so ignorant of the myths of aging [PDF, page 5], that employers sacrifice the good of their businesses for their erroneous belief in them.

Relegating people to jobs they were overqualified for right out of school is no less a crime than stigmatizing people for their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

INSULTING BLATHER

“Learn to adjust and change. Understand that you’ve become set in your ways and how this type of behavior often conflicts with the times.”

- James Conyea, monster.com
“While keeping current is a good idea for everyone, it’s essential for older job seekers, experts say.”
- Christopher Jones, hotjobs.com
“…by 2010 we’ll have about 10 million more job openings than we have skilled and qualified people to fill them. The best thing would be for women in their 40s, 50s and 60s to do a better job of reaching out and advising each other."

- Barbara Reinhold, monster.com

“As real and as painful as it is, however, age discrimination can best be fought with an upbeat attitude.”
- Katharine Hansen, quintessentialcareers.com

No. Anyone who believes an upbeat attitude will counter age discrimination wasn’t alive during the civil rights movement. Age discrimination is best fought by enforcing the law.

Unemployed older workers like me need jobs now, not in 2010, and that our younger colleagues are employed in positions for which we are equally qualified is self-evident proof that jobs are available – for those whose appearance meets the biased assessment of hiring managers and corporations. Mr. James Conyea’s mistaken and insulting assumption about “being set in our ways” notwithstanding, we have been adapting to every job we’ve had all our working lives – successfully. And it is nonsensical to say that it is more essential for older job seekers to stay current than younger ones.

AGE DISCRIMINATION

“Three common worries of recruiters when hiring an older worker are concerns about energy level and health, flexibility and ability to learn new skills, and concerns about salary expectations.”

- Candace Moody, Is 50 Over the Hill?
“An ‘autobiography letter’…is especially harmful for older workers who will only call attention to their age with such a letter.”
- Katharine Hansen, quintessentialcareers.com
“The age issue is prevalent throughout the [IT] industry [Bill Payson, president of Senior Staff Inc.] said, and many companies have rationalized an age-biased viewpoint in several ways: older workers’ salary demands are too high; older workers are not a good cultural fit within the young team; and they’re overqualified.”
- Terryn Barill, techrepublic.com
“Some companies don’t appreciate what they’re losing when they shed older workers,” laments [Dan Kohrman, a senior attorney at AARP]. “The kind of thinking has led to a lot of talented people, many in their 50s and 60s, being let go, denied opportunities, or forced out.”
- Renee Kruger, Nafe magazine

Every year, untold thousands of older workers become roadkill, their livelihoods dead and gone in their prime and their valuable skills squandered to the worship of youth and the unholy belief that age equals feeble. If shame and the law will not waken employers, the hit to their bottom line should. Apparently, bare mid-riffed workplaces are preferable to increased profit.

I omitted sampling the advice I found that isn’t just plain awful because it is uninformative. Any worker who has reached the age of 40, 50 or 60 and does not know to wear clean, appropriate clothes with matched socks to the interview and to present him- or herself as eager, flexible and willing, deserves to be unemployed. In the Web pages I visited, I found not one piece of information relevant to older job seekers that added to the knowledge I’ve had since my first search in 1958.

To be useless, however, is only incompetence. To be discriminatory is a crime. Taken together, this collection of “expert” advice for older workers is the moral equivalent of Jim Crow, denying older workers the rights younger ones take for granted. If you don’t think so, re-read the quotes substituting the words “African Americans” for “older workers” and “whites” for “younger workers.”

Can you hear me now?

I begin a search for new employment this month with a knot in my belly because, contrary to what corporate America may believe, at 63, I can still see well enough to know what I look like and I know what they think about that.

Again and again, I have been advised by people I respect to play the game, as I have in the past. But a funny thing has happened on my way to getting older.

Playing the game no longer feels a part of my nature. Lying about my age with a tricked out resume is too humiliating to participate in. Dying my hair now that its natural gray is growing in feels like a denial of the basic human right to be what I am. And unlike four years ago, I suspect I won’t give it a pass should a patronizing, 25-year-old hiring manager ask again as she leans forward to pat my forearm, “Tell me, dear, what are your life goals?”

“I believe in the dignity of labor, whether head or hand: that the world owes no man a living, but it owes every man the opportunity to make a living”
- John D. Rockefeller

EDITOR'S NOTE: Happy Labor Day weekend to everyone from Ronni and Crabby Old Lady.


Let's Retire to the Hilton

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just when we were discussing some serious issues of retirement recently, this arrived by email. The danger in publishing it is that it is not impossible I am at the end of the line and everyone else has read it six times. Nevertheless, this one seems to belong on Time Goes By permanently and I like it so much, I’m going to take the chance. Just in case it is the oldest chestnut on the Web, however, I’m blaming it on my friend and accountant, Mike Oser, who forwarded it to me.

“No nursing home for me! I'm checking into the Hilton Inn. With the average cost for a nursing home per day reaching $188.00, there is a better way when we get old and feeble. I have already checked on reservations at the Hilton. For a combined long-term stay discount and senior discount, it is $49.23 per night. That leaves $138.77 a day for:

  • Breakfast, lunch, and dinner in any restaurant I want, or room service
  • Laundry, gratuities, and special TV movies

Plus, they provide a swimming pool, a workout room, a lounge, washer, dryer, etc. Most have free toothpaste and razors and all have free shampoo and soap. They treat you like a customer, not a patient. $5.00 worth of tips a day will have the entire staff scrambling to help you.

There is a city bus stop out front and seniors ride free. The handicap bus will also pick you up (if you fake a reasonably good limp). To meet other nice people, call a church bus on Sundays. For a change of scenery, take the airport shuttle bus and eat at one of the nice restaurants there. While you're at the airport, fly somewhere. Otherwise, the cash keeps building up.

It takes months to get into decent nursing homes. Hilton will take your reservation today. And you are not stuck in one place forever. You can move from Hilton to Hilton, or even from city to city. Want to see Hawaii? They have a Hilton there, too - the wonderful Hilton Hawaiian Village and Spa.

TV broken? Light bulbs need changing? Need a mattress replaced? No problem. They fix everything and apologize for the inconvenience. The Inn has a night security person and daily room service. The maid checks if you are okay. If not, they will call the undertaker or an ambulance. If you fall and break a hip, Medicare will pay for the hip, and Hilton will upgrade you to a suite for the rest of your life.

And no worries about visits from family. They will always be glad to find you at the Inn and will probably check in for a few days' mini-vacation. The grandkids can use the pool.

What more can you ask for?

So, when I reach the golden age, I'll face it with a grin. Just forward all my email to the Hilton Inn."

Upon telling this story at a dinner with friends and too much red wine, we came up with even more benefits the Hilton provides to retirees:

Most standard rooms have coffeemakers, easy chairs with ottomans, and satellite TV - all you need to enjoy a cozy afternoon. After a movie and a good nap, you can check on your children (free local phone calls), then take a stroll to the lounge or restaurant where you meet new and exotic people every day. Many Hiltons even feature live entertainment on the weekends.

Often they have special offers, too, like the Kids Eat Free Program. You can invite your grandkids over after school to have a free dinner with you. Just tell them not to bring more than three friends.

If you want to travel, but are a bit skittish about unfamiliar surroundings, in a Hilton you'll always feel at home because wherever you go, the rooms all look the same.

And if you're getting a little absent-minded in your old days, you never have to worry about not finding your room. Your electronic key fits only one door and the helpful bellman or desk clerk is on duty 24/7.

I told Stephen Bollenback, CEO of Hilton this story. I'm happy to report that he was positively ecstatic at the idea of us checking in for a year or more at one of their hotels. Stephen said we could have easily knocked them down to $40 a night.

See you at the Hilton. And not just for a "Bounce Back Weekend," but for the rest of our lives.

- anonymous


Crabby's Principles of Blogging

So much to read. So little time. Crabby Old Lady is bitching about her time problems again. She knows she is stepping on some toes as her complaints today apply to blogs and bloggers are among her readers. But Crabby will be, well – crabby about these things and it’s time to get them off her chest. Feel free to rip on her if you have a different point of view.

Bloggers, in general, are not seeking the numbers of readers who visit, for example, The New York Times Website, but it is nice to know there are people who enjoy your blog and that you are not writing in a vacuum. Some bloggers, however, seem bent keeping readers away not by what they write, which may be compelling, but with how they present their material. There are some blogs Crabby reads despite how difficult their owners make it, but in the long run she will leave, as will others. So listen up.

Text Styling. It may be coincidence, but recently Crabby has run into an increasing number of blogs posted in italic, which is hard to read on a screen. It can't be seen, but the screen constantly flickers and that tires eyes, especially Crabby’s old eyes, so don’t make it any harder on her. Save italic for emphasis of a word or two; title of books, magazines, Websites and newspapers; and material that is not part of the main body of the post. Also, using the Verdana font in worth considering. It was invented for ease of reading online which it does nicely.

Background Color. Crabby doesn't care what color the text is, reading on a black background makes her squint, so she doesn't bother anymore, ever, with dark backgrounded sites. Besides, as a style, dark backgrounds are so 20th century.

Posting Dates. A few bloggers use no dates at all. A larger number hide the date at the bottom of the posts. This makes it difficult for Crabby to know if she has read that particular entry or not. She may not visit a blog every day, but if she is a regular, she has a general idea of how recently she was there, and would like to know how fresh the post is without wasting her time re-reading the first paragraph or two before she realizes it’s old. For the same reason, time of day is important to post with the date when a blogger publishes throughout the day.

Blogrolls. These are the life blood of blogging. We find one another through investigating links on the blogs we like under the assumption that a good blogger will link to others who have a similar sensibility. Those links are recommendations. For that reason, Crabby finds long blogrolls of 100, 200, 300 links suspect. Nobody reads that many blogs and Crabby doesn’t believe they are all worth her time, so some paring is in order. Give readers a short list of excellent blog links that deserve a wider audience.

And alphabetize them, please. Sometimes Crabby goes to a blog because she knows there is a link to a site she wants to see again and did not bookmark. Help her out. Gordon.Coale, although his blogroll is endless, separates his into categories and that helps a lot.

Link Rot. It is disappointing when a link that appears to be interesting turns out to be dead and it makes a site appear to be out of date. Check your links regularly. There are free spiders that will easily do that for you. Here is one.

Read More. It is relatively common for bloggers to post the beginning of an entry – five or six lines or so – with a “Read More” link to the entire story. Crabby understands this is a traditional option of blogging software, but the reason eludes her. It interrupts the flow of the story and she has no way to know if the post is a couple of paragraphs in length or six pages. She might not have time right now to read 5,000 words. The Web is all about choice, so make it easy for readers to enjoy your site on their terms.

Link Blogs. Some bloggers who write little themselves, scour the Web for interesting material. Crabby likes discovering new information this way, but too many make the page or story title the link without explaining why it is worth a reader’s time. It only takes a sentence to explain why readers should visit that place on the Web.

Fair Use and Source Your Quotes. There is a copyright doctrine in the U.S. called “fair use.” It allows quotation from other peoples’ works without payment, but in small amounts. Crabby has noticed some bloggers who not only quote entire articles (from other blogs and from books, newspapers and magazines), they post the material without quotes or without citing the original. Or, if they do, it is hidden in a tiny font at the bottom of the story, easy to miss.

It does not appear to Crabby that bloggers who do this intend to present the material as their own. She believes that because most bloggers are not professional writers, they don’t realize the harm to those who are. In addition, the English language has a handy little device called quotation marks which is an instant alert to readers that the material is from another source. Surrounding others' written works with them is the right thing to do.

Aside from these Web best practices, some of which are particularly useful for older folks, Crabby finds remarkable the generally excellent and sometimes inventive use of the English language - compared to the population at large - in the blogs she reads. It is heartening, in the face of decades of failing test scores and failing schools, that English is not only alive and well, but flourishing - at least in the blog universe.

Crabby Old Lady understands she is behaving like a schoolmarm today. She can't be sure, but sometimes believes she was a teacher in another life.