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Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Terrible Hidden Toll of Being Old and Unemployed

Remember when Congress went home for the year-end holidays without extending unemployment benefits to 1.3 million long-term unemployed? Those people and their families are still without benefits.

It gets worse. Did you see the news yesterday?

”...last July, North Carolina sharply cut its unemployment program, reducing the maximum number of weeks of benefits to 20 from 73 and reducing the maximum weekly benefit as well.

“The rest of the country is now following North Carolina’s lead...

“Starting on Jan. 1, the maximum period of unemployment payments dropped to 26 weeks in most states, down from as much as 73 weeks.”

As bad as this is at any age, for older workers, it is disaster; statistics show that it takes 50- and 60-year-olds about twice as long to find work (if they ever do) as people 40 and younger.

Canada's government may not be as cruel as in the U.S., but the difficulty of finding work while old exists there too.

Earlier this week doctafil, who blogs at Jive Chalkin', sent me a link to a painful letter to the editor at the Montreal Gazette from a highly qualified worker who has not been able to find a job in 18 months of looking:

”The problem? I am 62 years old. Despite the fact that I am in the prime of my career and in perfect health, it would appear employers do not wish to consider the many years of experience associated with my age group.

“Retirement is not in my immediate plans and won’t be for many years. I know I am not the only job seeker in this predicament, based on the age demographic I see in waiting rooms.

“Full-time employment is my only option, in order to be in a position to sign a lease. I am currently boarding with a family member, which is not a viable long-term solution.”

What does she do, I wonder, when her welcome runs out.

Hardly anyone uses the phrase anymore but we are talking about age discrimination in the workplace.

Even though there are laws against it, few hiring people pay attention, no one prosecutes and so it is the reason older workers (is 50 all that old?) have such a terrible time trying to find a job.

As horrible as they are, however, hunger and homeless are not the worst things that can happen as a result of unemployment. Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett, writing in The New York Times in 2012, are among the few in the mainstream media to discuss suicide among the unemployed:

”A paper by the economists Daniel Sullivan and Till von Wachter estimates a 50 to 100 percent increase in death rates for older male workers in the years immediately following a job loss, if they previously had been consistently employed.

“There are various reasons for this rise in mortality. One is suicide. A recent study found that a 10 percent increase in the unemployment rate (say from 8 to 8.8 percent) would increase the suicide rate for males by 1.47 percent.

“This is not a small effect. Assuming a link of that scale, the increase in unemployment would lead to an additional 128 suicides per month in the United States.

“The picture for the long-term unemployed is especially disturbing. The duration of unemployment is the dominant force in the relationship between joblessness and the risk of suicide.”

Unemployed older women commit suicide too and earlier this week, the estimable Susie Madrak of Crooks and Liars told the terrible, sad story of one:

”My dear friend killed herself Saturday, an hour or two after she left my house...

“When the unemployment ran out, she was living off her 401K, which depressed her deeply. The job she finally found a year or so later was working for an elected official's local office.

“She answered the phone, she occasionally got to help people. But mostly, she hated it. She didn't feel useful and she spent most of the day on Facebook.

“She was afraid to look for another job. 'I'm 60 years old, I haven't done this work in five years,' she said. 'I don't think I can do it. If I got laid off again, I think it would kill me. At least with this job, I don't have to worry about losing it'"...

“I found out she was dead when I called her cell phone and her sister-in-law answered. She's taken a handful of pills and climbed into the bath.

“I know she had severe problems. I know she was fragile. But when she had a real job, and a real paycheck, she was functional, damn it. And I can't help but see her as yet another victim of this goddamned recession.”

“Another victim of this goddamned recession” and as far as I can tell, no one with the power and authority to take the steps necessary to alleviate so much suffering will do anything.

You know who they are. Everyone does, even if no one will say their names.


ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with letting myself off the hook for too many responsibilities while sick, I have not prepared stories for The Elder Storytelling Place this week. They will return next Monday 27 January.


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

This is so important. Thank you for writing this. It took my husband 14 months to find a job after he was laid off. He applied for over 2,000 jobs, 800 responses, and 4 job interviews. I worried every day.

Thank-you for writing this. I was unemployed off and on for several years, many times living with family and while grateful, very embarrassed.

I

In doing some research for elder workshops I was presenting in high schools, Statistics Canada's suicide reports horrified me. I had always assumed that bullied/demeaned/outed etc. teenagers had the highest rate of suicide.
Not so. Elders suicided at more than 3 times the number.
And those are only the reported ones. Most families hide elder suicides under "died of old age" of somesuch.
Being jobless and hopeless would be an enormous catalyst.
It is so sad.
XO
WWW

I suppose you will hear many stories like this.
When the job I held for 13 years moved to another state, I found myself out of work. I knew that at age 61, a new job would not come quickly. I was thankful for my unemployment insurance and a small severance check while I looked for work, which never came. When my unemployment insurance ran out and my savings started to dwindle and the chances for me finding another meaningful line of work along with it, I was forced to take a very unwanted early retirement. If they would have extended my benefits for a little longer I might have found a decent position and not have had to be part of the permanently unemployed. What they don't realize is that when old folks can't find a decent job their only alternative is to go on SSI, which costs the government more money than unemployment insurance.

Where are the lawsuits? The lawyers? Are the lawyers refusing to take these cases? Are old people not reporting suspected age discrimination? Are we so ashamed of being old that we don't seek our rights under the law? Should those of us who are working make more of an effort to document the age discrimination we see at work? A couple of multi-million dollar settlements would (might) get the unemployed-old-people problem in the media, and give employers some reason to obey the law.

On another note - What I see in my hometown of Buffalo, which has been bleeding young people for years, is that older people can get hired. I don't have any numbers for this, or reason to think it's more than a hunch, but I wonder if older workers stand a better chance in the rapidly depopulating rust-belt cities, compared to cities like NYC that are magnets for the young. What have people's experiences been?

Being unemployed also cuts back your support system when you can no longer afford to meet your friends for even a cup of coffee much less a meal out.

I thought one needed to be disabled to qualify for SSI.

"”My dear friend killed herself Saturday, an hour or two after she left my house..."

This is indeed sad but a situation where those who cut benefits would likely take the Scrooge attitude that feels no pity for the plight of such people:

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Two personal stories . . .

I spent over 25 years with a wonderful company (started with a X). There was a '60 minutes' show on about 3,500 senior (tenured) employees who were suing this company for age discrimination - they won! But now each individual would have to litigate and prove their own case. Not long after I, too, left - but by choice!

Second story. After spending a few years with another (one that designed and developed and held the OCR-optical scan reader patents) let a lot of the senior (age) management folks go. This time we were fewer in number, got a great Dallas lawyer, and starting the litigation. In summary, the attorney(ies) all agreed that it was "pure and simple age discrimination" - and we had the edge. But sue as you may, it will take years. Most of you will be gone (dead) by the time they ever settled; if it was ever settled. So, why spend your 401(k)on this suit - you'll never get it back? Buy a sailboat and sail around the world!"

Nope. Sorry as it may be to some, being a Senior is the "end of the line" for even the most experienced of us. You can now look forward to a life of flipping hamburgers and putting up with an 18 year old boss that has the IQ of an idiot - or go buy a sailboat!

This is not a solution for the very real problem of age discrimination, but it might help some older job seekers. I volunteer at my local public library, helping seniors learn to use computers & other electronic devices. It is impossible to apply for most jobs now except online and many people have no computer or email address. Here in Iowa, the budget for state unemployment services has been cut and staffed offices replaced by computer kiosks. People without computer access can look for help at their local library-many of them have computers for public use and personnel or volunteers to help. Nevertheless, I consider the decision of employers to only accept job applications online to be another form of age discrimination.

Mary jamison asks where are the lawsuits? I can remember filling out 3 job applications where one of the questions was:
Have you been involved in a lawsuit in the last 5 years? Talk about a red flag question! What are the chances that you would be hired if you answered yes?
I think many people are afraid to file suit for fear other potential employers would disqualify them because of it. Who needs a "trouble maker" when there are so many applicants to choose from? It's a no win situation for an employee.

As Yellowstone points out, lawsuits are almost entirely out of the question for age discrimination.

The law has been so watered down in favor of corportions that discrimination is nearly impossible to prove. It takes many years, more money than you have and you'll probably lose.

Meanwhile, you're paying an attorney $400, $500, more an hour while corporations all have staff attorneys who get paid no matter what they are working on and they can stretch out the paper work for many years until you are broke, dead or both.

I know - for a short time after I was laid off from my final job, several others and I spoke with an employment attorney.

Fortunately, he was honest about our prospects and anyway, there was no way we could afford the fees and even if there were good possibilities of a win, there's not that much money in this kind of law and the attorneys don't do contingency, and certainly no pro bono.

I retired from teaching at a young age thinking I would easily be hired with the experience I had in business and marketing. I didn't need a large salary or benefits as my teacher pension covered much of that. I just wanted to keep working, preferably in nonprofit so I could feel that I was giving back. Didn't happen. Young people were hiring young people for those positions. I do, find, though, that organizations are very happy to have me volunteer for them.

It is so sad that elders and their experience are no longer valued.

This is another example of the injustice reported on a daily bases and it makes me sick. The rich and powerful hold all the cards and the rest of us can starve. Maddening!!!

At 77 I may be about to join the ranks of unemployed elders thanks to--of all things--Obamacare! I supported the ACA and still do, in principle. However, the implementation has been disastrous, not only for people trying to enroll but also for the healthcare providers whose livelihood depends on patients coming through the door.

I work part-time for a mid-size nonprofit healthcare provider, and our patient census has declined precipitously. Most of our patients are low-income and depend at least partially on public funding, but many have been unable to enroll in the ACA.

So, revenue drops and staff gets laid off. Age discrimination has never been an issue where I work, but still. . .wonder who will go first--a 32 year old or me? Some would say it's past time for me to step aside and surrender my job to a younger person. Well, maybe, but the extra income has made a big difference and will definitely be missed. If I get laid off, I will have to retire. I won't even look for another job because I know I won't find one.

There are so many applicants for every open position that you will never truly know if you have been discriminated against or not. And the companies have deep pockets and I don't.

It is also cheaper to hire a college graduate, it is said, who will do everything without question than to hire me, who will question the logic behind corporate decisions. Older workers than I have told me this time and time again.

While older workers have a superb work ethic, rarely call in sick, always show up on time and are willing to work late or over-time in a crisis, the younger management prefer to work with younger workers.

Since I couldn't find a job after the company I worked for ten years was sold, I wound up taking early retirement after my unemployment ran out. I know that I wound up with lower SS payments, but that was better than nothing coming in.

At age 55 I was laid off from my job of 15 years. I consulted three different attorneys about an age discrimination suit (there was no other apparent reason), and all three advised me that my time and resources would be better spent looking for another job. I followed their advice, but never found another job.

I recall hearing conversations in that office when they were interviewing for a new executive director. The most qualified and best liked candidate was passed over. Remarks from the other officers were along the lines of "He's too old; he just wants a place to park until he retires." The man was in his 50s.

This all will get worse I am afraid to say.. until people organize and unionize again. Since Reagan we have had mostly union busting presidents and now even the state politicians think it is perfectly OK to be against organized labor. Unions aren't the perfect answer, but without a large group to be a part of that can protect your rights I don't see another way.

Ronni,

Thank you for keeping unemployment extensions on the radar. Unfortunately, there are millions of Jack and Jill’s that were NOT affected by the recession and are oblivious to the challenges faced by older workers to attain sustainable jobs at “a certain age.” What's worse is Washington's slack in addressing this critical situation of extending UE and playing politics on the backs of the poor (and unemployed) in the form of austerity.

This tragedy especially affects those unemployed in their mid-50’s, NOT yet retirement age with nothing to revert to except maxing out their credit cards and/or losing everything they own.

Unemployment benefits with or without extensions is a drag to the economy. I assume, it WILL GET WORSE!

It's so sad. There were no positive comments posted on this subject (except for "Yellowstone" and his sailboat idea). Is this what future generations can expect when they get old?, a dismal unfulfilled existence spent on the edge of poverty only to die in some government run hospital, or to quote Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is"?

I wonder how it works with Government jobs. Do they discriminate like private employers or are they fairer to older workers?

Good question, Tarzana. Actually, the public sector does seem to see experience as a good thing, unlike much of the private sector which wants to hire 25-year-olds with 15 years of job experience.

I went to work at a federal agency when I was 60 with many years of relevant experience as well as a recent certificate in technical writing. I noticed that there was, clearly, an older demographic in that agency.

In 1978 my father got "retired" at age 62 by the only employer he'd ever worked for. I encouraged him to sue, and he did (under new ADEA laws at the time). He paid a lawyer a large retainer and then worried about the suit daily. I was very naïve.

All those people who work for the company and have spoken highly of you for years and recommended you for bonuses and recognition...they can't be found when you need them to testify on your behalf, because they want to keep their jobs! Also the company is the keeper of the paper trail of all things about your employment history. And indeed, the company has the money and the lawyers to bury your lawyers in paper.

Lawyers and friends who encourage you not to spend your time and savings suing former employers are giving you wise advice.

There is no doubt in my mind that age discrimination is a huge, unaddressed problem in need of a solution, but I do not know what the solution is.

Thank you all for your comments about age discrimination lawsuits. It's eye-opening, and depressing as hell.

Advice from a labor and unemployment paralegal (age 70 and still working!)

NEVER put your graduation dates from school on your resume.
ONLY go back 10 years at most on your resume.
The EEOC exists to help you, really!

Eliza, you are totally correct, but age can only be concealed to a certain point. If--and that's a big if--you manage to get past all the barriers designed to screen you out and actually get an interview, your number's probably up if you look a day over 35. That's why I won't waste my time and absorb needless blows to my self-confidence looking for another job if I'm laid off.

Age discrimination is a national shame, extremely depressing and is a problem that really needs to be addressed. However, like "Perspective" I have no clue what the solution is. We live in a youth-obsessed culture; it will take a sea change in our national attitude. Maybe someday that will happen.

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