Older Workers and the Recession
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Elder Fingerprint Failure

I am a member of the advisory council and its executive committee for Clackamas County Volunteer Connection, an agency of the county Health and Human Services department. For this volunteer work, I am required to submit to a background check.

To accomplish this, fingerprints are needed so in early January, I drove the few miles to the Clackamas County Sheriff's office where such processes are officially conducted.

It surprised me a little; no messy ink as I expected from movies and television shows I've seen. Instead, it is done these days via computer by having one's fingertips rolled on a glass scanner. But the sheriff's office offers more services than fingerprinting.

For a woman who, as far as she can recall, has never been closer to any kind of gun except the one attached to the hip of a neighborhood patrol officer, the sheriff's building lobby is disconcerting – signs pointing to the Armory, signs advising people not to load or unload guns in the lobby and signs with prices for “ammo, one box per customer.”

Most disturbing were two areas juxtaposed to one another: a room behind a glass wall where people were shooting guns at paper targets and a children's area with a low table, chairs, a collection of kiddie books and bunch of toddler-sized teddy bears.

I guess the idea is to start 'em young.

I am as ignorant of this world as I am of quantum field theory and I was startled when a young man standing at the reception desk near me told the attendant he was there to apply for a concealed carry permit. I could be wrong but he didn't look a day over 18 to me. I'm still wondering what he needs that for.

As easy as the fingerprinting was back in January, I was happy to leave all that gun culture behind when I was finished and had thought that would be the end of it.

But no.

As it turns out, I am a fingerprint reject, a failure at fingerprints. Mine could not be read as this notice shows:

My Fingerprints card

Now I have learned that old people's fingerprints are hard to scan so yesterday morning I was required to hie myself back to that place of way too many guns for my comfort to have another whack at fingerprinting. But first, I checked around about elders and fingerprints.

”...fingerprinting did have significant engineering issues,' according to Ross Anderson, professor in security engineering at the University of Cambridge [England] Computer Laboratory. ‘There are some people whose fingerprints you can’t scan,' he said, 'people like bricklayers and tilers whose fingers have been worn flat.

“‘Old people tend to have much less distinct fingerprints than young people for similar reasons,' he continued. 'The equal error rate in fingerprints is about one per cent if everything goes well.’”

The Scientific American website reports that the failure rate for scanned fingerprints is about one to two percent and further notes,

”...the elasticity of skin decreases with age, so a lot of senior citizens have prints that are difficult to capture. The ridges get thicker; the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there's less prominence. So if there's any pressure at all [on the scanner], the print just tends to smear.”

That's what happened with my first set of prints – smeared, unreadable. The FBI website has instructions for taking fingerprints of elders and others with impaired “ridges in the pattern area.”

”Apply light pressure and use very little ink to record these types of fingerprint impressions. A technique known as "milking the finger" can be used to raise the fingerprint ridges prior to printing. This technique involves applying pressure or rubbing the fingers in a downward motion from palm to fingertip.”

In my case, it's a scanner not ink, but when I discussed what I learned with the technician – different from the one who was there in January – she was way ahead of me in regard to the difficulty with old people and took a lot of time repeating scans to get my prints right this time.

Let's hope she did so because being around all those guns is way too unnerving for me. Or maybe I'm hypersensitive right now with all the crazy talk from people who oppose any gun control legislation at all.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Arlene Corwin: The Story Behind My Haircut


That's fascinating info. Thanks. Yes, hypersensitivity, and I don't blame you.

Now that I'm old I have another thing to worry about....."impaired ridges!" What's next? :)Dee PS: I dislike any & all guns as well & this didn't come with age.

Unreadable elder fingerprints? This, along with the previous post, may be responsible for starting a whole new fad for Over-The-Hill gangs.

Below-80's, fear us!

Fascinating! I'd never heard this before. I did, of course, immediately try to examine my fingertips. I remember in the past being able to see every little ridge and whorl, and the little scar on one finger. Now I'm at pains to see any ridges at all, which is as likely an eye problem as a finger problem. I'll keep this in mind, however, if I ever have occasion to be fingerprinted.

I've learned something today! Thank you, Ronni!

I am saddened by the gun culture that is encouraging children to learn how to shoot. The very fact that they are exposed to an acceptance that guns are a normal part of life does not bode well for our insane fascination with guns and violence. Just like most evils in society it's all about money. The NRA want to raise another generation of customers for the weapons industry.

Oh, yes. I am one of the 1% - 2% with unreadable fingerprints! In my case, some 60 years of keyboarding, starting with a Smith Corona manual all the way to a present day PC, was what erased them.

I tutor kindergartners in Seattle, and getting fingerprinted required several trips to the courthouse and even a drive 90 minutes to Olympia! (which made me wonder what they do with criminal suspects!) My employers spent quite a lot of money for repeated testing. Insane.
I'm 64.

It's not only older fingers that might be rejected ... mine were rejected 30 years ago at age 40 when I needed a clearance card as a child care center director. The police officer who redid them said "you must wash your hands a lot and/or use lots of paper in your job." Funny that both were very true.

Maybe fingerprinting has become a bit archaic. DNA testing would be much more accurate.

Hopefully, none of us will ever come face to face with the reason the sheriff's office has all those guns or the reason someone might want to carry a concealed weapon. But of course, the more removed from those realities that we get, the more idealistic we become, I think. And that may not be good for us.

Quilters have the fingerprint problem, also. Particularly with the finger they use to push the needle and their thumbs.

I worked as a police dispatcher for almost nine years, shot competitively for one year, and married a special officer, so being around guns or a pistol range doesn't really bother me.

But some of the people who have guns scare the heck out of me. We really need to get a handle on who gets guns, required background checks, registering weapons, and limits on assault-grade weapons.

I have always suspected this about finger prints as we age.

It was either the diminishment of these finger "treads" that have been causing me to drop things more easily these days, or there's a gremlin nearby that is always playing wicked games with me.

I examined my fingers and could not find any but a few whorls on them. Strange I never thought of that. Now I say, "Go ahead and fingerprint me, for all the good it will do you!"
And the guns: awful. I am glad I live in Hawaii, which has the lowest or second lowest gun ownership in the nation.

I'm not entirely surprised by the fingerprint thing. I remember my father complaining that he could no longer hold onto a half-gallon milk carton or bottle with just one hand because it would slide through his fingers. He was probably in his early 60s at the time. He blamed a lifetime of working with his hands for wearing down his fingerprints, but who knows. Maybe a combination of labor and age.

You should have gone for the concealed carry permit instead. That probably does not require fingerprinting.

Funny you should write about fingerprints today. Just yesterday I was sitting in the sun waiting on my grandkid. I happened to look at my brightly illuminated fingertips and realized that they were scored with cuts and wrinkles and scores of markings that had nothing to do with the ridges in my skin. It made me wonder if you could get a fingerprint from an old person - now I know the answer.

Good thing I had my fingerprints done when I was still under 60. I passed then, but like several other readers, I examined my fingers anew and "ridges" are largely absent at 76.

A word about guns: Until my late 30s, I was rabidly anti-gun, period. Then I met my husband--a former police officer and an extremely responsible, safety-conscious, lifelong owner of firearms. He was raised in a rural atmosphere (back in the Depression-era years before WWII) where boys were routinely taught to hunt and to handle guns safely.

He is about as far from a supporter of the "guns and violence culture" as anyone could get! Yet, because we own firearms for self-protection (and he is still a topnotch target shooter at 83, although he stopped hunting or shooting at ANY living thing many years ago), we would probably be lumped in with the rest of the NRA crazies. That would be a mistake. Gun owners like us are not part of the problem. We hope that eventually some semblance of reason and common sense will prevail in the ongoing discussion (if it can be called that) about guns.

This seems like a big advantage for elder criminals. They wont leave fingerprints behind. File under: something to do when you’re bored in retirement

The only time I've had my fingerprints taken was when I entered the U.S.A. last year to visit my family and Ronni. This was electronic as well – we had to lean against the detector and presumably they were registered. I guess that somewhere in Washington ... (oh hang on, I'm channelling Arlo Guthrie).

I have to stick my finger into a scanner to get into the gym I belong to. It only reads sporadically -- I worked construction when young and have long known my fingerprints were wearing away.

I have a trick for the gym scanner. Before I come in the door, I lick my finger, then let it dry, but it remains moist. This seems to bring up enough print to make it work.

I should hate the scanner, but I don't. It keeps me from having to carry one more plastic card!

Well, Veronica, let's hope you never have to go back there! ;)

As one who has been required to have security clearances of various levels (perhaps 15 or 20 of them, lifetime), starting at age 21, I am one who should have followed a life of crime. Even at 21 I had to go back for re-fingerprinting twice. For a FEMA background check in 2007 (and again in 2009) the poor guy gave up trying to get good inkless scans on my fingers and took what he could get. Never has a good set of prints been produced on the first go. Like Janinsanfran, I belonged to a gym with a scanner. I had to input a code, instead.

It took three visits to get my fingerprints. I finally succeeded by going to a place that had an old machine. The multiple ventures cost the non profit who required them over $100. The whole thing feels like another part of our endless security theater.

Sad that so much attention is offered by most posters on their personal discomfort and ignorance about firearms.
I looked at the main article because I was interested in the technical issues with aging fingerprints and fortunately learned a lot there, the only thing most posters appear to be qualified to comment on.

I have been tested 2 times for finger prints and rejected both times - now what? was not given much info when speaking with a representative after the second failure notice. Does anyone know what the alternatives are? I was applying for my ccl.

I am sixty three. I assume that my prints still work. My prints are "on file" due to military service and subsequent work in areas requiring various background checks. I am saddened that so many commentators want the second amendment rationed. The Bill of Rights exists for a reason. I am equally saddened by Government trampling on the first, fourth, and fifth amendments.

"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"

I've never owned a gun however I'm a strong second amendment advocate. I 've never even wanted to buy a firearm for personal safety-and my adult children do think I should, as I spend a great deal of time volunteering and they worry about me riding the light rail home late at night from downtown by myself.
It's not that the trains or busses are always unsafe, it's that the media play up the very infrequent situations where a wacko or group of wackos harass we late night commuters. Lately a local news station has been hounding our transit line offices about their camera coverage on trains, busses and at stations. Apparently not all the cameras work (are we surprised?). They then ask commuters if not knowing if the cameras are working makes them feel unsafe. The transit authority does not want to release this information to the news bureau because it might cause more disturbance. I view this as another chance for the news to be part of making news and not fairly reporting news. And no it doesn't make me feel unsafe, nor am I worried about concealed gun permit holders. It's those who never got a permit that I'm concerned about.

I am going back for my fourth time to be fingerprinted by the scanner. Two times now I have been rejected. I am 63 and clean and sanitize rooms in a nursing home. I guess my fingers are dry. This is frustrating. I have never been in any trouble in my life and can't seem to be fingerprinted. What do they do if criminals can't be fingerprinted??

Here's a radical notion, if you get beyond the age of 50 and have no criminal history maybe you don't need to be fingerprinted. Just because it can be done doesn't mean it ought be done. We spent too much time in this life proving that we are not a threat. My husband and I have owned homes for 30 years and we just refinanced one and bought another, and the hours and invasion of our privacy to prove that we are not a risk, in spite of our 800+ credit scores and strong income was just plain stupid. The TSA makes grandmothers remove their bras and endlessly pats down elementary age children. It is just too much and it needs to stop.

Just went through a second attempt at getting fingerprinted in FL and again not a single finger would scan properly. I'm 69 and have pushed paper in most of my jobs. I was told the FBI would now just run my name, whatever that means.

I was told that Corn Huskers Lotion will help in getting the fingerprint to take. Will be trying next month.

Interesting! Did not know I would have trouble passing the livescan fingerprinting ! It is for real estate license and I felt relief I did not have to study for this test but wow I fail, my fingers and ridges ridges ridges. I do wash my hands ALOT and do work with papers. Now what do I do? Lol will try that lotion mentioned here and go for it again. smh!

I cannot get any apps because my fingers are 86 years old and smooth as silk so what is the answer to that?

Didn't expect this! I was helping my dad registering his fingerprint recognition on his new phone and realised his barely worked. Glad I found this post first so I can tell dad to redo it but with less pressure.

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