REFLECTIONS: Trusts
The Threat to Medicare and the Truth Squad

Placing Responsibility for Age Discrimination

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Marion Vermazen of Marion's Blog also runs the Marion Vermazen Podcast in which she has "conversations with interesting people." Apparently she thinks I am one of them and yesterday, she interviewed me. When we recorded it via Skype, Crabby Old Lady was still writing today's post, so there is some crossover between the interview and her her topic today. You can listen to it here.]


category_bug_ageism.gif Synchronicity stepped into Crabby Old Lady's life yesterday. Just as she was having a private snit over what must be the ten thousandth article she has read with execrable advice for older job seekers, an email arrived from a friend who, at age almost 64, was laid off on Monday.

Crabby's heart sank. She has been there. At the same age. But, unlike her friend, in a still booming economy. Even then, she learned to recognize that look on the faces of 20- and 30-something hiring managers - the look that means for god's sake, I can't be expected to hire grandma, now can I, so let's get this over with as fast as possible, you old bat.

Crabby is painfully helpless in regard to her friend's predicament, but she can rant, and that she will.

Without exception, every story purporting to advise elders on overcoming age discrimination when looking for work contains the same directives:

  • Prove you are tech savvy

  • Update your wardrobe

  • Be energetic

  • Have a positive attitude

  • Get a modern haircut and stylish pair of glasses

Some years ago, Crabby bumped into one online job search “expert” who recommended facelifts for older job seekers. That odious suggestion aside, how do these patronizing advice givers think old people have survived in the workplace for the past 30 or 40 years without sharp skills and appropriate demeanor. Technology? Fifty- and 60-something job seekers haven't been on Mars for the past two decades and computers have been commonplace in the work environment for just about that long. Older workers know how to use them and in fact, they invented at least half the technologies young people use.

As to personal style, if Crabby is expected to accept kids wearing flips-flops to work (See The New York Times), she thinks young workers' tender, cultural sensibilities can be adjusted to accommodate an older worker wearing aviator frames.

But the most infuriating stroke is the advice givers' reversal of responsibility in hiring. Nowhere do they (or much of anyone else) acknowledge or discuss the contemptible behavior of employers in giving the bum's rush to older applicants. Instead, they tacitly accept age discrimination as the norm to which older workers must meekly submit while turning cartwheels to pretend it isn't in play.

Although there are some letter-of-the-law websites for companies in regard to hiring, they are often about not getting caught at age discrimination than fairness or ethical behavior. And it is easy to find detailed instructions for hiring young workers. Here's an excerpt from one Crabby Old Lady located in fewer than ten seconds that doesn't even nod at the legal requirement to not discriminate:

“What can an organization do to find more qualified young workers and then identify them effectively and quickly?

“Simplify the application process. To first attract and then actually hire young talent, making the entire application process as convenient as possible is critical.”

This screams for a dive into the archives to retrieve The TGB Bias Test in which ageist references are replaced with words related to sexism and racism. As in:

“What can an organization do to find more qualified white workers...”

Or

“To first attract and then actually hire male talent...”

Ridiculous, right? No one would write those sentences. But it IS acceptable when it is about old people. There is no uproar, no calling out. No one cares. Yet the weird perversity of age discrimination is that it works against young people too. As we live longer, healthier lives, it is the young who, through increased taxes, will be required to support competent, experienced elders who could be supporting themselves and paying taxes but have been locked out of the workforce by age discrimination. How dumb is that?

Has Crabby mentioned that age discrimination is illegal? She won't bore you with the details of the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). You can find a short overview of the Act at Wikipedia. Aside from a few stated exceptions, it prohibits discriminatory preference for the young. But it is not effective.

The ADEA provides little protection for older workers. Employers are adept at circumventing the requirements of the statute and should someone who believes he or she has been discriminated against sue, corporations have staff attorneys who get paid no matter what they do and can soon bankrupt a plaintiff paying a private attorney $500 or more an hour.

Usually, however, lawsuits are not pursued because it is nearly impossible to prove age discrimination in hiring. No one ever tells an applicant outright that he or she is too old, although “overqualified” is a well-known euphemism for the same thing.

Mostly you know you will be rejected for being too old through the subtleties of body language, a disinterested attitude or, as happened once to Crabby Old Lady, a young interviewer who pats your forearm and says, “Tell me about your life goals, dearie.” None of it is provable in court as discrimination, but you know it when it happens to you.

Crabby Old Lady saw enough of it that before she gave up looking for work four years ago, she developed a tactic for such moments in interviews when she knew she had nothing left to lose. Crabby's friend, Rick Gillis, liked it well enough to include it in his new book, The Real Secret to Finding a Job:

Look your interviewer straight in the eye, don't blink and in your most pleasant, professional voice, ask:

  • Does this company maintain a mixed-age workplace?

  • How do you weigh the skills of younger and older workers in deciding whom to hire?

  • How do you train young managers in dealing with subordinates who are old enough to be their parents and grandparents?

  • Is my age an impediment to being hired at this company?

Rick maintains that asking these direct questions in the right circumstances may turn around the interview, that you may be seen as a no-nonsense person they could use. Crabby never got another interview after she developed this exchange, but it sure made her feel better to have it in her back pocket should the need arise.

We are living in tough employment times that probably won't get better soon, but that doesn't mean age discrimination should not be challenged. Let Crabby be clear: it is not the job applicant's responsibility to fool employers into thinking he or she is young – none of that idiotic, cosmetic advice works anyway. But it is the employer's responsibility to hire fairly.

Crabby Old Lady fears for her friend's job prospects. Isn't it time the blame for age discrimination is placed where it belongs and something is done about it?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: The Shock of a Lifetime

Comments

Those are great questions to ask an interviewer, I sure would be interested to hear what the results were if anyone has tried them (or similar questions).

When I talk about age discrimination to my son he gets this "here she goes again" look of disbelief and I bite my tongue to not say "just you wait".

No matter how illegal it is to discriminate - whether it is employers choosing younger workers or landlords choosing childless tenants - discrimination of all kinds is endemic and will probably remain so because there are so many ways to get around it. I once knew an office manager who always selected Catholics and managed to do so without ever actually asking candidates their religion.
I think a step forward might be to mandate that all employment interviews and decisions in companies with more than one employee must be done by more than one person. That way, at least the criteria for choice would have to be openly discussed. Much prejudice is hidden or even unconscious.

I've often fantasized that perhaps one day job interviews might by done "behind a screen" somewhat like a confessional with the applicant unseen by the employer. But then I recall that often when I interviewed an applicant I did find out alot about a person in how they looked & presented themself. Just a thought. Dee

The plight of the older job seeker is one of my pet topics. After leaving my job of 29 years with a voluntary retirement package I immediately started looking for a replacement job. I really didn't retire from work, of course, just from that company. I knew that I needed to go--offer was good and time to move on. I found 1 job at half the pay. If I lose it, I fear I'll then default to McDonalds or other local retail, if they'll have me, that is. It's sad but at nearly 62 I believe I may be about finished in the mainstream jobs world. All due to employer's aversion to hiring a 60 something year old. It isn't my choice. That's just the way it is and the problem gets worse by the day as I get older. Oh well.

As boomers retire, North American employers will HAVE to adjust their pea brained ageist hiring policies. Why?

Because we vote.

Seniors, by our sheer numbers, will have more than one more kick at the can.

That's when you will see action.

Boomers will have the numbers, the money, their life experiences and know how to push for change. That time is coming faster than politicians think.

Millions of seniors will remain in their homes, rather than be pushed against their will into nursing homes. Seniors will work as long as they choose to do so, using their collected expertise.

And not in minimum wage jobs.

Seniors will be running the show.

Watch it happen.

I feel like the poster child of age discrimination in job interviews. I get calls in response to my resume; which employers call "impressive". I do well on the phone interviews, practically being given the job on the phone. Then comes the onsite interviews. I do well but as soon as I enter, I see the looks pass between people.

I try to use humor to diffuse the situation....but think I will use the questions Ronni posted.

Bottom line: No job as yet. Almost 5 months of looking and by the way, in the reduction in force I was confronted with?, it turns out the majority of those let go were above age 55.

I can so relate to this post. Thanks Ronni for writing it. I am going to put a link to this column on my site. I am concerned for anyone looking for a job today. However, people over 50 are really having problems.

I spent almost all of my 50's looking for permanent employment, relied on part-time and temp jobs. Those years were so bad, I have blocked most of it from my memory.

We have one employment agency in our city who specialize in clients and jobs for those over 50.

I continue to stay put at my present job knowing that it would be too painful to seek employment elsewhere. Because I work alone, I’m spared a lot of disturbing comments and innuendos. However, I’m part of a larger department and only when mandatory, do I attend meetings, presentations, etc.
I am without question the oldest person in the department. I know why I continue to work, but don’t feel required to explain to others why I’m not yet retired. I finally came right out at a meeting recently and asked why the word “retire” seems to come into play whenever I’m in the room. I don’t remember what the response was and, frankly, don’t care. It was probably too stupid to remember anyway!
I’ll be surprised if I hear that word any time soon.

As usual Good Schtuff, in toto, Collective Conscience, Am passing along and posting

Excuse 2nd comment. Has anyone started their own business since being unemployed over 50? Would like to hear your stories and visit you websites.

If you have a website, email the url to me please, lindacrim@gmail.com

Along those lines I have been burned by MLM, get rich quick scams, etc. Not only did these make me feel foolish and used, I lost what little money I had at the time.

Thanks for this great post. What wonderful suggestions Rick Gillis makes. I will put a link to this on my next blog post. I'm 68, and for the past 9 years I have worked part time helping to develop DVDs and other media programs designed to train caregivers of elders. The 2 company owners are around 60, and it is an elder friendly workplace. I am also starting my own company, Sage's Play, which will provide products and services for older adults.

Ageism is a big, unacknowledged social problem. Things have got to change. Older adults must learn to be more pro-active rather than just taking it. Millions of older adults means that change will occur,if everyone takes responsibility for his/her part.

Perhaps I should be keeping a log of my husband's struggles to get employed. Everyday he spends at least 4 hours online looking for jobs he is qualified to apply for. Some weeks there are three or four a day, this week none. He is 53. Rarely does he get an interview.....at least he was #2 in a lineup of hundreds for one job last week.

One of his old company's has said they would hire him immediately. For some reason, he does not want to drive a tow truck so has not called them.

He has to work 12 more years till retirement.

Ageism isn't restricted just to the job market. It's rooted in the overall lack of respect that most in the younger generations have for old people and can be seen in all aspects of life. Being a child of the Depression and WWII eras, I can remember when quite the opposite was true. Old people were respected for their experience, wisdom and common sense, things that in my estimation are sorely lacking in today's youth-centered culture.

As a youngster, I used to marvel at the ability old people had to devise ways to solve problems and fix things using what little they had on hand. No high-tech stuff, just ordinary things that most people had around the house.

Once, when I was eight or nine, I had an extremely painful boil on the bottom of my forearm just below my elbow. When my grandmother saw it she took me into her pantry and made what she called a "poultice" by making a paste comprising some shavings off a bar of lye soap mixed with sugar. She then put this paste on the boil and covered it with a bandage, telling me not to remove it 'til the next day.

When I awoke the next morning the first thing I did was remove the bandage. And to my amazement, the core of the boil was stuck to the bandage and there was a a nice clean hole in my arm where it had been. There was no more pain and the wound healed quickly with no further problems. The tiny scar on my arm, still there after all these years, has always been a reminder of how clever she was in so many areas.

Back then, very few people had the opportunity to get a formal education beyond grammar or high school, but they made up for it with ingenuity and common sense. It's only after WWII and the GI Bill that so many people were able to get college educations. In my estimation, this has been both a boon and a bane to society. The advances in technology resulting from higher education have been a extremely beneficial in some ways, but have been an ecological disaster in others. But, to me, the biggest disaster created by our educational system is that it has increasingly graduated a society of morons who possess scads of "book learnin'" but have little or no common sense. All one has to do is pay attention to what's happening in our politics, government, legal system, education and financial systems, and the national media, and it's quite obvious. Is it any wonder that ageism exists?

My grandmother must be rolling over in her grave.

MissDazey--No, I haven't started a business but some of my friends who are as old or older than I am started single-employee businesses shortly before/after they retired.

My friends seem happy, but I wasn't too keen on continuing working and I wasn't at all keen on accepting the gazillion dollar liability exposure that would have gone with it.

We are all in the field of aircraft structures (engineering), where one crash, our fault or not, could be the end of us, financially. I don't mind risking my own money, but I am married. Fees to an attorney (or working with one) to protect Hunky Husband's assets didn't appeal to me, either! (Hunky Husband was willing to handle the "business" side, although he had retired at age 56 in 1993.)

Running your own business isn't all that great. Take it from one who did that for many years. It was a horrible grind and you could never get away from it.

Eventually our health gave out and we had to sell our small business and retire, with me not old enough for Social Security and neither of us old enough for Medicare. We were never able to save much money for retirement, so we have to skimp.

Even without much money, I was so relieved to be retired, I can't tell you.

Our son works for a good hi-tech company, so he can at least take time off for a vacation now and then. But as for ageism, I sometimes worry about him--he's in his late forties, and the Gen X people in any HR department would probably already think he's "old."

45 is the new 55 employment wise
55 is the new 45 health wise
This is crazy

This is one of the most important topics you cover. I kept wanting to jump up and shout "Amen" at the end of every paragraph. I've have not been able to get a full-time job since 05/08 and try to survive by piecing together three or four part-time teaching contracts. Which still does not add up to full-time pay, not to mention out of pocket health insurance costs.

I strongly suspect there are few actual jobs for ANYONE in this economy, because only in such a climate could such cruel and foolish discrimination flourish. Otherwise, employers would really, really want to get some work done. That must not be the case in reality.

Thus, discrimination explodes in all its ugly forms...too young (my personal favorite when I was 19!), too old, too black, too female, and on and on.

I am currently trying to go back to work, so I am trying another recommended route to keep your skills sharp and your confidence up--volunteering. The small, struggling non-profit is run by someone I know, which is how I got a more interesting gig than most volunteers do. The tasks are: Helping them edit their huge amount of office stuff for an upcoming move and using QuickBooks software for managing the money. It's challenging and mind-stretching, but of course pay-free.

Where will this lead? Time will tell.


Paula: I have always thought volunteering is an excellent way to stay in contact with the outside world while job hunting. I used it a couple of times in my younger days. Like I always say "no one is going to just knock on my door and offer me work." Besides, it helps keep job skills and spirits up. Saying that since I am housebound I'd like to find a volunteer assignment I can do at home on computer.

I have been in several business for myself in the past. Love it, problems and all. First husband and I ran a construction company for 26 years. Of course, I only did the office stuff. (divorced ended that)

Thanks for listening everyone.

Can't remember the exact moment the "light" went on...but my experience with age discrimination happened 10 years ago. It's not about "our work"...it's about the way the different generations see life. Managers feel seniors can't mesh with the flow of the office personalities. I retired....

Since people became farmers and the whole family contributed to earning a living one way or another, the age groups were divided into those who could go out and work in factories and offices and those who were excluded from these duties.

Older workers and all women were often excluded by laws limiting the amount that anyone could carry, for example. Marketing of goods in the big city fell to those who were young and attractive.

I once had a male principal who said, "I always hire a young and beautiful teacher. An ugly woman can never become beautiful but I can always teach a beautiful young woman to become a better teacher."

"Yet the weird perversity of age discrimination is that it works against young people too. As we live longer, healthier lives, it is the young who, through increased taxes, will be required to support competent, experienced elders who could be supporting themselves and paying taxes but have been locked out of the workforce by age discrimination. How dumb is that?"

Maybe this is the point we need to emphasize about age discrimination problems that others will respond to.

I first became aware of work place age discrimination when in my twenties and I was working at a TV station. Numerous on air personalities were replaced with younger talent based on age. Youth and attractive looks were always a factor for women even for behind the scenes jobs.

When I was about forty we moved to the L.A. area after residing in a couple other locations. Though I had turned down a much desired job offer to move from commercial television to public television years earlier because we were leaving that area, I knew, experience be damned, my age would now be a detriment seeking any sort of television employment, including off camera, in this most competitive market of youth and beauty. Other factors influenced me, too, as I was not about to take a job where I would have to become a daily "freeway flyer" spending long commuting hours to and from work.

Then recalling back in the '60's a major instance of age discrimination -- my husband was forty when he left a business he'd been a partner in for almost twenty years and returned to complete the final year of a college degree circumstances had prevented his doing many years earlier.

Surprisingly to us his age, experience and drive proved to be liabilities when he began his effort to join the work force. His interviews with major companies for whom he was interested in working resulted in no offers. The initial enthusiastic interest prospective employers showed through letter and phone conversations changed with face to face interviews once his age clearly was discerned. If we had any doubt his age was the problem, one interviewer was actually honest with him about the issue which likely wouldn't be done today for fear of an age discrimination lawsuit. The interviewer added, "If it was up to me, I'd hire you in a minute, but I know when I kick this information up to corporate they'll reject your application on that basis alone." As I recall now, I think this interviewer also said the higher management would assume my husband would be “set in his ways” and thus wouldn’t be amenable to “molding” to their company business view. This acknowledgment was helpful for my husband's morale and resulted in his refocusing his employment pursuits away from corporate business.

Age discrimination was not new as we discovered when we became aware of a nonprofit organization started some twenty years earlier in 1939. Named “Forty Plus” this group was formed for “older workers to provide moral support and networking opportunities, a need even then. Now there are additional groups with similar focus for “older” employees seeking work.

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