This Week in Elder News – 11 April 2009

Elders and Fair Hiring Practices

category_bug_ageism.gif Since 1967 in the U.S., The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) has made it unlawful to discriminate against employees and job applicants age 40 and older with respect to any term, condition or privilege of employment including hiring, firing, compensation, training, benefits, promotion and job assignments.

By federal statute then, the burden is on employers, recruiters, career counselors, hiring managers, human resources offices, etc. to treat older adults no differently from younger ones. But you wouldn't know that from the offensive job search advice that universally spews forth from employment “experts.”

Most recently, in a story titled, (with some misrepresentation of the content) Turning One's Age into a Job-Market Asset, The Washington Post tacitly acknowledges, supports and perpetuates age discrimination:

  • “...don't walk in looking old. Walk in looking young...”

  • ”...people seem more intelligent if they talk more quickly...”

  • ” new glasses – no aviators or oversize ones, please...

  • ”...consider coloring [your] hair if it's gray.”

  • ”...don't give away your age by saying exactly how long you have been in your field.”

Gail Geary, identified in the story as an Atlanta career counselor, goes further:

“You may want to model yourself after a successful 30- or 35-year-old, she said, with a wardrobe and credentials that are current.” [And further]

“'Ask your children or grandchildren what they think...if they say it's hip, you know you're moving along.'”

Oh, yeah. I'm going to take fashion advice from young men who wear their jeans hanging off their butts and young women who show up at work with four inches of bare midriff on display.

The only conclusion to be made from this advice, is that unless you deny your valuable experience and knowledge, and remake yourself into a grotesque facsimile of a 30-year-old, you are unemployable.

Far from turning one's age into an “asset,” as the story headline purports, these advisers are complicit in encouraging employers to break the law by sending them tarted-up job applicants whose goal is to deceive their potential employers.

Oddly, too, in a journalism environment that for years has operated on the assumption that there is an argument to offset even the most heinous point of view (on the other hand, Hitler loved dogs), the reporter, Vickie Elmer, provides nothing to counter her “expert” sources, implicitly accepting the existence of age discrimination in the workplace while noting, without comment, that age discrimination legal complaints rose by 29 percent in 2008.

Let us be clear: employers who reject job applicants because they are old are breaking the law. Only an attorney could say if career counselors, recruiters, etc. who promote deception by job applicants are operating illegally too, but they are certainly skirting the law.

More, in today's devastating economic environment, these advisers are repellent. Millions of elders have been stripped of 30, 40, 50 percent and more of the savings they they worked hard to accumulate for their retirement over a lifetime of employment. As Dean Baker noted in a recent story at alternet,

“...the recent collapse of the housing bubble and the resulting stock market plunge have reduced the wealth of older workers and retirees by close to $15 trillion."

In case you skipped over that, it is 15 trillion dollars (more than seven times the astronomical U.S. budget deficit projected for this year) in collective loss to retirees, many of whom have been forced back into the workplace in minimum wage jobs such as bagging groceries to afford to eat.

Having been robbed of their savings, old people are also being robbed of their dignity by asinine know-nothings who tell them all they need to do to get a job is dye their hair, talk fast and lie. This advice is not only insulting, it reeks with discrimination.

It is long past time for the media to tell the real story - that employers, with the collusion of the job search industry, regularly break the law - and to demand that the burden for fair hiring practices be placed where it belongs, on the people doing the hiring.

(Hat tip to Marian of And the Beat Goes On.)

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson writes of Spring Love Among the Elderly.]


I'm glad you out-ed the paper, the reporter, and the career counselor. (You're in good company... the Babylonian Talmud counsels: A person to whom a calamity has occurred should make it known to the community.)

Having a law against age discrimination only prevents employers from telling you that your age is why they won't be hiring you. Awfully hard to enforce a law like that except in the most blatant of cases.

I know a guy who has been unable to secure permanent employment in his field and dyes his hair black in order to get contract jobs. He has lots of experience and expertise, but he works in a very competitive field with lots of young folks. These days the younger ones all have degrees in the field, but that didn't existed when this guy started out, he learned by the seat of his pants. Should he be going back to school in order to disguise his age?

Now that you have outed the WaPo (trying to keep up with the always-ageist NY Times), I hope you will do a similar dissection of The Jon Stewart show last night (4-9-09).

For his exercise in bad taste, he chose the evening of the second Seder to belittle old people and their concern with sexually-transmitted diseases. The setting was Miami and a Jewish senior center--ageism+anti-Semitism.

Toward whom at Comedy Central should we direct our ire?


The essence of this problem is that no one should ever need to do anything to disguise his or her age.

There is nothing wrong with being old. Nothing. It is not a defect, but in our youth-saturated culture it has come to be seen as such and the result is that we treat old people as second-class citizens.

Employers and their helpers in the job search industry have been telling old workers for years to do everything in their power to look young, young, young.

This is wrong.

Several years ago, I applied for a job in health care (my specialty). The company I had worked for closed. I was in my late 50's. I went for the interview and they asked me to complete the application so they could process it since I did so well in my interview. On the bottom of the application was a question on my birthdate. When I questioned them, since there is a federal law that states employers do not have the right to establish age on interviews (or even after hire). I was told that was for the background check required in health care and it would not be used by HR for hiring.

Guess what? I did not get the job even though the interviewer was effusive in your praise of my credentials and how she was looking forward to my coming on board and when could I start, yadayayayayada.

My cousin works for the EEOC. I showed her the letter and told her what happened. She said it is very hard to prove age discrimination but I could file a complaint. The more complaints a company gets, the easier it becomes to identify those that discriminate.

I filed the complaint. Nothing happened(to my knowledge). Fortunately I know work for a company that loves elders and even though by age, I could retire this year, I can't financially.

Ronni, again, you ring true in this blog. Perhaps we should all email the reporter and challenge her on this? I know I will.

I color my hair, wear new glasses and I’m able to talk quickly. So I guess if only I could get lessons in how to walk looking young and if I stop talking (quickly) about how much has changed during my years in the workplace this would bring to an end the mention of retirement more than I care to hear.
And, as for asking my children, I wouldn’t do that to them or to myself.
What rubbish! I am 67; look 67 and even if I were able to do a cartwheel at the next staff meeting, I’d still be 67 and proud of it!

When here in my town, employers are getting 100 resumes for a part-time receptionist job, you know an old lady like me isn't going to get hired.

Shortly after I retired, older workers at my workplace were harrassed or fired outright for trumped up reasons. This took place immediately after a new director came in. Coincidence? I think not.

Older workers are targeted for several reasons, I believe. One is they are considered to be more expensive to retain. Another is they are not perceived to be as loyal to new regimes. Often they have institutional memory, and wisdom gained from experience. So, if they express doubt or ask too many questions, they become doubly vulnerable.

Oh, Naomi you are so right about last night's Daily Show. That entire segment was so offensive. Was it supposed to be ironic? Do you suppose those elders featured on the show were really actors?

On the WaPo article, which I will have to read later, thanks Ronni for pointing out again, that being old is not a sickness. We should be ourselves, old or young, and not have to worry about appearing young.

Even though that article was supposed to be about assets, it was not. But I do think that updating one's appearance is not bad when seeking employment, or when needing to retain a job.

I guess I don't quibble with the concept of evaluating how we present ourselves. But when elders try to look young, we generally look foolish. And as Ronni has pointed out, why should we have to?

Amazing! Simply amazing...

”...people seem more intelligent if they talk more quickly...”

So you would hire someone who 'seems' intelligent? Wouldn't it be smarter to hire someone who really is intelligent? Like an elder with lots of experience?

I'm sorry,but Gail is an idiot. Can I say that? And say it fast?

This isn't going to be popular here, but I see both sides of this issue-- not as an employer or employee, simply as an observer. Your blog frequently speaks to the problems of aging, issues that impact the old because they need help with say reading that someone younger wouldn't, physical problems that are part of the body wearing out, memory issues that change with aging-- and at the same time with these government rules would like to be taken as the same as someone younger for a job without considering physical realities. Discrimination means to put someone down for something not because of ability but out of prejudice. Can we really say that as we age, we haven't changed and lost some of what we once had for capabilities? That doesn't mean we can't do some jobs, but maybe not as well as we once did or as a younger person can, who might want the same job.

Employers take into consideration many things when hiring or would if they had free choice. A young woman might be more apt to get pregnant and quit or demand more time off. An old woman is going to get older and that could mean more disabilities that must be considered. Employers probably can't admit they consider either but wouldn't they?

I am not sure this issue has an easy answer. Some elders are fast as they ever were and some are not. If we say to the employer they cannot take into account age, then can they observe the things that might make that person less able to do the job? Can we have it both ways-- expect to be seen as the same as a younger person but also want crosswalks slowed down to let us get across in time?

If the elder can do the job, has an ability to see new ideas and incorporate them into their work, is flexible, has a good personality, those are pluses but might an employer wonder how long that will be so? Of course, as I said above, the youngster could have the same thing go wrong except we know it will more with us who are old and with the younger, it's maybe it will.

I understand the frustration people feel as the job market is tighter and more people who are old find they have to work when they never expected they would. I am not sure of a solution that is fair to the employer and employees. Realistically, where it comes to the farm work which is of course physical labor, I know I can't do what I could do even 10 years ago and from what I have seen, and been told by other elders who are 10 years older, that will happen even more so in the next 10 and the 10 after that if I am lucky enough to get there.

I'm thinking about re-entering the job market, at least in a part-time capacity, so I've been looking at ads. Legal or no, some ads specifically state they want a younger person. I'm getting discouraged before I send any resumes!

Strut like a young buck? Dress like a kid? Be up on the latest pop culture? And dying your hair -- I don't have any left! Should I be looking into wig hats?

The weather is great,
Springtime's so mild.
I've gained the wisdom of age
But I have to act like a child!

Jack Palance walks into a job interview, does 100 one arm push ups and is told "you look old, but if you can do that with your pee pee, you're hired."

CBC Canada did a piece on the competition between seniors and juniors in job hunting.

Sometimes I apply for jobs I don't even want, just to test the waters. So far, not one reply.

It could be they see I am retired, figure I'm older, but with a knock em dead CV, maybe they feel threatened. Perhaps they realize I won't be bullied around, know the ropes and have a good pension. I'd like to dig into this theme a lot more. What if you HAD to go back to work in retirement, what would you choose to do? Would you have a choice of job? Shouldn't there be room for everyone in the job market? While in Florida this winter, we saw many seniors happily working all kinds of jobs. I love being served, and advised by people from the Greatest Generation.

Thanks again, Ronni, for the use of your wonderful platform for my earlier rant. Have now written my own post...about ageism on The Daily Show--also noted here by Sophronia.

A friend told me a story yesterday about an elder who had tried in vain to obtain a part time job. She had applied for advertised jobs, sent out resumes, and had done everything in her power. For two years she remained jobless. A friend in her social circle told her about a part time bookkeeping job (her expertise) and that led to another part time job. Then she ended up with three part time offers.

My point is, do some networking, volunteer at places that have paid employees, tell your friends you are seeking work, etc. The people you meet may be able to lead you to a job.


I never said and never would say that people shouldn't be judged on their knowledge and capabilities for the job in question. My presumption is that the people hired should be those who have the best qualifications for the job. That has nothing to do with - or SHOULD have nothing to do with age.

And I'm obviously not talking about physical labor, although I doubt there are a lot of old people looking for farm work.

As far as reading is concerned, I'm confused: people of all ages uses glasses and contact lenses for those problems; it's hardly a disability. And, I've dealt with a rotten memory all my life - worse, even when I was young, than many old people - and had a very successful career. I'm sure I'm not alone.

You don't seem to take into consideration, either, that people improve with age. They have more experience, understanding and have gained a lot of knowledge in their years of working. That doesn't suddenly disappear at age 50 or 60.

I don't have the energy and stamina now that I had when I was young. That only means, I go home after after work and get a good night's sleep instead hitting the bars with the younger workers who, by the way, call in "sick" with much higher frequency than old workers.

Certainly there are health issues that are more common among older people. But if I understand what you're saying, because an old person MIGHT get Alzheimer's next year or MIGHT have a heart attack in five years, he or she shouldn't be hired. On that theory, no young men should be hired because they have a high incidence of auto accidents and MIGHT become disabled.

Perhaps it's just that you haven't experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Maybe you haven't heard an interviewer tell you on the phone at 4PM that the vice president is going to be excited to meet you and can you be there at 10AM the next morning, only to be told - after they check you out by peeking into the lobby two or three times - that the job has been filled. Overnight.

Or have a 20-something interviewer pat you on the arm and say, "Tell me about your life goals, dearie."

There are employers who are elder-friendly. But a large number refuse to hire old people just because they are old. It's built into our youth-centric culture that believes age is ugly, stupid and unworthy.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe old people don't deserve to be judged on their capabilities like everyone else.

No, Ronni, you are right. I want to flip this whole ageism theme right on its ass, and every little piece of knowledge is a piece of the wall broken down. I say we clock it, sock it and clobber it every way we can. Too many weasels hide the real reason for not hiring a senior. Time to bust that thing down.

Fascinating discussion. Why not think about elder advocacy? Something from the Left, not like the AARP? Naomi suggests this, and I second the idea. Maybe it could start online, like Move On. Look at the skills we could muster as group to do this!
Really, it breaks my heart that people over 65 are having to run around looking for work because they have lost their retirement money. I don't think anyone over 65 should have to work unless he/she wants to.
I cherish my retirement leisure. For the first time in my life I can do exactly what I want, when I want, keep the company I like, say what I please, and be answerable to no one. It is what I wish for every old person. And what we have earned.

Formerly an H.R. professional for over 30 years, I couldn't agree more with all the comments (and Ronni's post)decrying the practice of prejudging a job applicant on being old rather than on their capabilities. It is wrong, but how can we catch employers at it? It has been my experience that the decision makers will find another excuse for not hiring.

When I began my career at a family-owned company (300 employees), and working alongside contemporaries, hiring practices were fair, and we hired many older employees. We valued them. I can still remember one gentleman who was around 70 and had years of accounting experience. He had been taken advantage of by his former employer, who reminded him that at his age, where could he find another job? We hired him. He proved to be one of the most talented, reliable employees we hired that year.

Then over the years top management changed and the younger generation began to take over. The philosophies changed dramatically. And where I'd previously been trusted to make hiring decisions, I then had to run certain positions past the new principals. I won't even mention the qualities they found desirable.

I not only had differences over the new hiring practices, but I needed to watch my own back, since I had a reputation for speaking candidly and had unfortunately gotten old.

“...don't walk in looking old. Walk in looking young...”

Now, who would walk in anywhere looking old if they could help it?

Act like a 35-year old? Why, when the whole point of hiring me is that I've been around the block? Why hide my brightest light under a bushel of inexperience?

Please submit this entry to the Post as an op-ed piece.

I understood this is a sensitive issue, read it in people's comments here, thought twice before I even got into it, but I read here regularly and hear on the one hand how elders need certain special considerations but then there is the expectation that they should be rated equal in job searches to someone younger. I won't argue my points further as I have no need to convince anyone, but just explaining the one thing regarding vision. You have said you won't have certain types of blogs listed, like black with white print, want shorter paragraphs, and I assumed you were taking this from an elder viewpoint that it's too hard to read. It has not been my experience yet in terms of vision but hear it's coming.

Rain, I think the reason elders are not hired is because there is an unwritten policy against hiring them. The reasons probably involve higher insurance costs, and maybe an upper echelon dislike of having old people around. What it is is prejudice, pure and simple.

Firms are not supposed to discriminate according to race, gender or ethnicity, but I don't believe such discrimination has stopped either.

I am 62 and I would not apply for a job involving standing for long periods of time, because of a bad knee and 2 flat feet. But I could (if I wanted) do other jobs in a productive manner. Should I be discriminated against because my legs tire?

And Naomi, can you please tell me where your post is on the web so I can read it? I'm still thinking about last night's show. Actually I think I probably won't be watching for awhile.

Hattie, right on.


This word coined by the Boomer Chronicles blog in 2007 fits this absurd state perfectly.

Having to act "youngish" to survive is sort of the reverse of an English barrister's white wig--everybody "knows" it's not the person's real hair but it's the obligatory costume for the role.

I'm not sure there's enough "youthiness" available, even from real 35-year-olds, to leaven the sad reality that a functioning economy, as someone recently wrote, really can't be sustained by everyone in the country selling the contents of their garage to everyone else.

I think we're coming to the end of that delusion fairly soon, and all the blonde "highlights" and stiletto heels in the world won't make any difference.


With regards to my story about the guy who dyes his hair, I was asking the question facetiously, I guess not facetiously enough. I know he shouldn't have to disguise his age, I was kind of shocked when he told me this stuff. Kind of not surprised but also shocked. He's in his fifties and should be at the top of his game, but he's having to scramble for work because his hair is the wrong colour and his resume is too long. I got out before it could happen to me, but if I end up having to go back I don't even want to think about it. Too bloody humiliating.

Ronni, a bit more to the discussion from Daily Kos, a diary titled

We already pay for universal health care
by SusanL143

"Another thing insurance companies do, and are allowed to do, is to tier their premium price to risk factors such as age or previous illness -- so that the premium for someone who is 60 is three times higher than the twenty something who works in the same office. Guess what? This motivates companies to fire or lay off their veteran employees to save money. Age discrimination, anyone?"

As Rain correctly pointed out, being in my sixties I can assure you that I cannot take a calf down for branding or do any hay harvesting. Conversely however, given my expertise in my field and even salted with the fact that I have been retired for some six years, I can still run circles around most of the younger folks out there touting skills equal to mine on their resumes.

In 1990 at age fifty I was hired into an office and except for the boss who hired me, there was a tremendous undercurrent in the office among almost all the employees because I was considerably older than most. I was extremely “lucky” to have gotten the job or should I more correctly say the opportunity to prove myself. For several months my co-workers scrutinized my output, up-close and from afar, for the least discrepancy. But within a year I was holding classes after work teaching several of my co-workers my skills - required by the company. And who did they search out when they needed help with their day-to-day activities? But fact is…..I was extremely lucky to have gotten that job because my age was a definite detriment, even at age fifty.

I consider myself as good as I ever was, if not better but there is no way I could get a job doing what I use to do. The only hope I would have is to accept a much lesser position, prove my abilities, and then work myself back up the ladder. As elders, our best hope is to have contacts in our field of employment and/or expertise who are familiar with our skills and who know how we perform and can assist us in getting back to work. Short of that…..good luck my friend!

But to this discussion there is something extremely important that is missing. That being “work ethic”. Now to introduce this word into the mix after the demise of our financial system certainly would seem like the term has become an oxymoron. Nevertheless, there are always exceptions to every rule. But ‘work ethic’ was something that was quite prominent with my generation and the generation before. But it no longer gets any ‘air time’ if you will. “Work ethic” is an all-encompassing term that contains a set of values that any employer would desire and relish. But tune your ears to the term for I can almost guarantee you’ll never hear it. It is a term becoming almost as antiquated in the work place as you and I find ourselves.

I've read all the insightful commentary and while I am late in response, I do hope that some of you will take a moment to reflect on this simple truth...

We live in a society where we need money for necessary items - food, housing, clothing, medical etc. (this is written in order as it came to mind and not to be thought as priority order) - so, why is it that so many people are struggling for a job or that there are folks who are working two or three p/t time jobs.

If one needs a job - one should be able to have a job. With this simple principle, states could balance a budget and have fewer demands on services. The safety nets must stay in place for those who are unable to work due to health.

We need to re-instate rent control and affordable housing. We need to have a realistic pay baseline so that we can afford basic needs and have some to save.

However, back on point, age discrimination is almost impossible to prove and more so in times that we are now living in. The job market is flooded with seniors, those who are middle age and as of next month, the newly graduated. It is an employer's market as to whom to hire.

I know two women who have looked for jobs in our area and have had little luck. One changed career choice by going to university for a certificate program and had found a job in the field as an asst. On completion, she (fortunately) is still an asst and has not found the position she seeks. Another acquaintance, who returned for a Master's spent close to $35,000 for a two year program to obtain a job that pays $23-25,000 start. And so it goes and this example was several years ago.

We need to rebuild and rebuild with honest financial assessment. Renters need to start asking/writing for rent control - Home buyers are in a better position right now if they are able to qualify for financing because of the housing downfall. I feel sad as I write this because it is hard to benefit on anothers hardship.

The NY Times today has an article on cities increasing fees. Please take the time to read it online.

Nancy B., where is that company you work for?
We can thank my generation, the baby boomers, for just about all of this. If the WWII generation is the "greatest generation," the boomers are the "happily stupid generation." Really. Now they (as well as others) are paying big time. Congratulations. You got old after all. Idiots.

File this under "Seniors can't go the distance."

Two summers ago, I made my own job weeding gardens for seniors in my own neighborhood.

Have trowel will travel.

Twenty five people in all hired me to weed, trim, throw down compost, earth, edge, mulch, plant, trim small hedges and not one iota of mess was left on the ground.

I'm 65, fit, punctual, tidy and can work 5 hours straight without a break.

Jack Palance taught me everything I know about endurance.

Got weeds? Who ya gonna call?


Darth Weeder.

Go ahead. Make your day.

ALL my customers told me they love my work and will not hire a teen, as they tend to be late, take many breaks and quit without notice.

I dare anyone to accuse me of being lazy, unqualified or "can't do the job."

Yeah. Sure.


I advocate for the economic interests and positive images of women over 40.

Recently, I received an email advising me that employers were gearing up to fight legislation intended to strengthen employees' rights.

This was news to me, because I had not heard of this new legislation before.

One thing I've noticed about elders, going by this blog, is that you can all communicate your ideas excellently, with no spelling or grammar mistakes. This is a pleasant change from the blogs I'm used to reading.

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