ELDER MUSIC: Judy Collins
Everything Takes So Damned Long When You're Old

The Devastated Lives of Elders Due to Age Discrimination

As I have related here in the past, I was laid off from my job of three years, along with eight or 10 decades-younger colleagues, in 2004. I was 63 at the time.

My co-workers found new jobs within a few weeks or, at most, two or three months and all had several offers to choose from.

A year later, with only two in-person interviews behind me (one of which told me the job had been filled between our 4PM phone call the day before and my arrival at the company's office at 9:00AM the next morning) and deeply in debt, I was forced to sell my home and leave New York City.

This is called age discrimination in the workplace, a subcategory of ageism. Many people deny either one exists. That is a lie. It is real and it is every bit as evil and pernicious as racial, religious, gender and every other kind of discrimination.

In fact, age discrimination in the workplace is prohibited by law, administered by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is supposed to enforce the laws against workplace discrimination.

Note that I said “supposed” to enforce. In the case of age discrimination, over the years court judges have repeatedly sided with employers, weakening the age discrimination laws to make it more difficult for workers to prove discrimination.

In mid-March, ProPublica published its research into how tech giant IBM has eliminated 20,000 of its American workforce, hitting its oldest employees the hardest - 60 percent of layoffs, firings and required retirements affecting people 40 and older:

”Today,” explains ProPublica, “we are reporting that over the past five years IBM has been removing older U.S. employees from their jobs, replacing some with younger, less experienced, lower-paid American workers and moving many other jobs overseas.

“We’ve got documentation and details — most of which are the direct result of a questionnaire filled out by over 1,100 former IBMers.”

Here is a good video overview of some of the information ProPublica uncovered during their investigation:

ProPublica includes in their written report many personal stories:

”Marjorie Madfis, at the time 57, was a New York-based digital marketing strategist and 17-year IBM employee when she and six other members of her nine-person team — all women in their 40s and 50s — were laid off in July 2013. The two who remained were younger men.

“Since her specialty was one that IBM had said it was expanding, she asked for a written explanation of why she was let go. The company declined to provide it.

Another:

Paul Henry, a 61-year-old IBM sales and technical specialist who loved being on the road, had just returned to his Columbus home from a business trip in August 2016 when he learned he’d been let go. When he asked why, he said an executive told him to 'keep your mouth shut and go quietly.'

“Henry was jobless more than a year, ran through much of his savings to cover the mortgage and health insurance and applied for more than 150 jobs before he found a temporary slot.

“'If you’re over 55, forget about preparing for retirement,' he said in an interview. 'You have to prepare for losing your job and burning through every cent you’ve saved just to get to retirement.”

There are hundreds of heartbreaking personal stories from laid off IBM workers here. I know how awful it is. I've been where these people are.

Once I realized that I had no choice but to sell my apartment, it took a three-day weekend in bed in the fetal position, weeping uncontrollably until I could pull myself together and make plans to leave the city that had been my home for 40 years. I've never quite gotten over that.

The ProPublica story shows the viciousness with which IBM has jettisoned many of their most experienced and loyal workers. And make no mistake: although ProPublica concentrated their research on IBM, hundreds, maybe thousands of other companies do this every day.

”In making these cuts,” explain the ProPublica reporters, “IBM has flouted or outflanked U.S. laws and regulations intended to protect later-career workers from age discrimination, according to a ProPublica review of internal company documents, legal filings and public records, as well as information provided via interviews and questionnaires filled out by more than 1,000 former IBM employees.”

ProPublica doesn't have a solution and neither do I. But they have put together a crucially important investigative report and a subject you might want to bring up with your local candidates for Congress as the midterm election campaign heats up.

At minimum, the EEOC regulations weakened by court decisions should be restored.

In a followup report two weeks ago, ProPublica had this to say:

”We haven’t received further explanation or response from [IBM] in the weeks since we published. We know these layoffs haven’t ended. Watching IBM Facebook group members have reported that IBM sent a wave of layoff notices in just the past few weeks.”

Here are the links to the parts of the ProPublica investigation report:

Cutting “Old Heads” at IBM
Eroding Protection of Older Workers Under the Law
How the Crowd Led Us to Investigate IBM
Followup to Original Report

Do you or anyone you know have experience with age discrimination in the workplace?



Comments

I certainly do Ronni. A good friend of ours was laid off right before he turned 60. He was a hospital administrator with years of experience and all kinds of degrees and certifications. Needless to say, his position was filled by someone half his age. Then comes the disheartening years of searching for work. He was willing to travel, to move, to do almost anything. Nothing. He has kept body and soul together by patching together temporary jobs all over the southern states. You can guess what kinds of benefits they had. He has been treated like a piece of shti. This has had repercussions on everyone in the family, from not being able to send kids to college to health problems to hoping to live long enough for Medicare and Social Security. Don’t get me started on people who deny age discrimination exists. And my friend is far from alone as you so well know.

One of my nephews-in-laws was downsized from his long-held career at age 62. That was a year and a half ago and he was struggled with finding stable work every since. The company he had worked for hired him as a consultant for a short time basically doing what he'd been doing but without any of the benefits. The stress he and his family are going through has been heartbreaking to watch. They are trying to hold it together until he can get Medicare and Social Security.

Oh, Ronni, many times when you have mentioned your experience in New York, I've thought about my husband. He was given the "golden handshake" at the age of 57 from IBM. He was recruited directly from college to work for them. Sad to say, aside from just a few little extra work opportunities, he mostly has not worked since 1992. At that time, Connecticut was also going through a lot of downsizing at the large corporations so it made it even more difficult to secure a new job. Of course, as you know, that has had an impact on his Social Security. But more importantly, it had a thoroughly devastating effect on his emotions. After struggling to secure a new job and repeatedly not finding one, he just gave up. It took a long time to bounce back emotionally, and I think he still feels somewhat betrayed.

Out of the blue my husband at age 57 was laid off from his good sales rep job due to “restructuring.” This was after 27 years working faithfully for this company and winning all kinds of performance-based awards. Luckily, I was working and could support the household, but we had to dramatically reduce our spending. In spite of his many contacts, he was unable to get a similar position, and after over a year of fruitless applications and a handful of interviews, he settled for a retail job. The pay is a pittance but at least he has some structure, contact with people, and a feeling of productivity. I’m afraid to find out how this will affect his social security but his emotional health was worth it. My advice to the currently employed is don’t get too comfortable, and live below your means to save money because at any moment, as you age, you can be “sh&%-canned. Unless you belong to a union and have a protective contract, are a highly-needed professional (e.g. doctor), or own your own successful business, this could happen to you. In spite of all of our advancements and riches this can be a very harsh country.

As some of you know, I countered age-discrimination with my own survival skills gathered over many years of being an "underdog" in life by some interesting and creative application of counter measures all designed to make me one of the exceptions. However, no doubt about it, I was a target, albeit a moving target, and hard to totally take out, minus the wounds and dings in my armor. This probably makes little sense to folks, but it did happen about like I describe it. If one does survive, as I did up to age 69.5, you can celebrate with a nice retirement and the satisfaction of having gone out on your own terms, but you run the risk of a form of corporate PTSD from the constant tension from being in the "combat mode" over a long span of time. I have frequent dreams associated with battling to survive and they are only now beginning to subside after a full year of retirement. Nice post Ronni.

“ I have frequent dreams associated with battling to survive and they are only now beginning to subside after a full year of retirement. “ John

Me too, John. I have been retired for almost 7 years now and for the first 3-4 years I had frequent dreams of being at work and struggling to find a way out so I could go home.

Oh yes, age discrimination is alive and well. I had no trouble in my 30s and 40s securing a job but when I hit 50, it was another story. I worked in the legal industry managing a company and as I aged, my wages and benefits were cut while all other employees' stayed the same. I saw where that was headed so I left the private sector and secured an entry level job in the public sector.
Four years later, I have promoted to a job that is a closer fit with my abilities. It was a huge hit financially leaving the private sector but things were not going to improve for me in that realm.

During most of the 70's and 80's I worked for a management consulting firm in NYC that specialized in corporate relocation. During the 70's, the relocation policies were generous and we did things like workshops on managing change to make the transitions easier. But by the mid-80's, the "bottom line" mentality had taken over and, although we never did or saw any studies to confirm this, we all knew the many companies would decide to relocate in part to get rid of "dead wood" which, of course, meant older employees. This is just one tiny example of what you all are talking about. I wish I could see that things are improving, but alas, I think ageism is alive and well and probably intensifying.
Thanks for this, Ronni.

My husband and I have both been victims of age discrimination. I think it happens to most of us. Even in our retirement years I find my services not particularly sought after even in the world of volunteers. The only organization really seeking us is one where seniors visit seniors who live alone. Otherwise it would appear that all my wisdom and experience is for naught. I just don't get it I guess. In reality I think there may be some jealousy and CMA involved by those younger who think they know it all.

Alas, yes, age discrimination is alive and well in this country and people don't believe it. As you point out, the law is not enforced and our country does not have the safety-net to help people who cannot find new work.

I had been laid off or "re-structured" in the past but was able to come up with another job, usually paying more money. The last time, however, I had gotten older and not realized that would be a problem because I was also more experienced. Well, after two years of job hunting I was still unemployed, so I just gave up and took a job earning a third of what I had been making and felt grateful for it.

The pattern that I saw was that after an interview that I knew went well, when I filled out the hiring paperwork and they saw how old I was and never called back. It was very demoralizing since my self image was very tied up with my work.
Thank You to FDR and LBJ for Social Security and Medicare!

I was fired at age 55 (no reason given), after 15 years on the job, by a new, young association executive director and replaced within a few weeks by two blonde secretaries half my age. (With Microsoft Word they, of course, could produce the same publication that I'd been producing with my 30 years of publishing experience.) It wouldn't have been quit so hurtful if I hadn't found out later the association members -- about 6,000 statewide -- were told I'd had a nervous breakdown. I was angry and humiliated beyond words.

I'd swear I had something like PTSD for years after. Numerous job applications but virtually no interviews. One brief, underpaid job before I jumped into a bad marriage that at least took me out of state and into another job market. (There, of course, I was 56, 57, 58 and, oddly enough, still aging.) I had bad dreams for years, complete with the actual names and faces I'd worked with. They still occur on rare occasion, and I'm 75 now.

A generous relative helped me though my divorse and to 65 and eventually I was able to realize a lifelong dream to move to Colorado (before the cost of housing went through the roof). No one knows me here except relatives. There have been no interviews, rejections, etc. My beloved mountains are still beautiful. Would I have ended up here if I hadn't been fired? I'll never know.

Ronnie, I appreciate the willingness of you and your readers to share your stories of age discrimination in the workplace.

Because of this my husband and I have set our retirement plans based on the expectation that we will each be forced out by age 55. Any additional year would be a blessing financially but not something we count on. We won't be rich but we will be able to get by in our own home as long as we can figure out how to cover medical costs until we are 65.

My position was eliminated when the company merged. I was in my late 50s.I did manage to find another position that was similar but then the company moved me to a different type of job in the same office but with little to no training and an impossible workload. I was fired from that job when I was putting in too much overtime trying to get the work done. I decided I was through with the healthcare field. I had been working in Case Management and always had an internal conflict with providing healthcare benefits and worrying about the bottom line of the insurance companies. I decided to go into teaching. When I went back to college I was probably the oldest student in my classes. I felt like I really stuck out with the kids who were my children's age. I was never able to get a full-time position in teaching even with my credential in Special Education. I felt like people looked at me like I had two heads at times. I remember one teacher's aid asking me "Didn't I have any retirement?" Like why did I need to work at my age. Another young part-time teacher told me she had been trying to get a full-time position for 5 years and was telling me in a indirect way that I should not expect to get hired full-time either. I was eventually hired as a substitute teacher but really hated it because I was like a babysitter with kids who were set on making my day miserable. I eventually quit that job and gave up on teaching. I worked over 3 years doing in home tutoring and made very little money compared to the expense of gas and car maintenance. I am now retired, I think because I have given up on work. The past few years have not been what I had planned them to be. Even if you try to start over it seems like you can not succeed. I believe ageism was the biggest part of it. It makes you feel like you are discarded and I was really blind-sided by it.

It is very sad. I worked for IBM for almost 30 years... during the company's golden years. In a time when women in technical fields were paid significantly less than equally qualified men, IBM paid on performance. I worked on some interesting and challenging projects. Like any job, there were annoyances but overall IBM was a good employer for me.

Then in the early 1990's things changed and IBM's business was under stress. I was planning to retired at 55 so I would have time to do other things. With that mindset, I had managed my finances accordingly. My house was paid for and my retirement savings were adequate. IBM management began mistreating their older employees and encouraging them to sign up for buy-out offers... sometimes not too subtly. Reading the tea-leaves, I signed up... twice! Both times my request was denied because I was "too valuable" to the team! I was too valuable to let go but not valuable enough to be treated respectfully. Eventually I couldn't stand the working conditions and took a pre-retirement leave of absence for sixteen months. My manager tried to nix it (the "too valuable" thing) but could not. Since I was still technically an employee, I was not allowed to work for an IBM competitor. That translated to working anywhere in my own field. I lived frugally until my pension started. I have not regretted my decision for one second in the past twenty years.

As happened to others in this thread, I was replaced with two junior employees.

Every once in awhile, I wonder what the next generation will do when they hit the ageism issues that are sure to plague them too.

As for IBM and the other companies that jettison older employees: what a total waste of experience, knowledge, abilities, skills and work ethic. Unfortunately, society today seems to worship at the altar of high tech. Tech is a "religion" of youth, but I think it may prove to be a false god in the end. Many Americans have surrendered their privacy and personal data to huge corporations whose primary interests lie in "monetizing" both. What could possibly go wrong with that?

These stories are terribly sad and make me very glad that I did not remain in the private, for-profit sector. I was able to work at my administrative job in the NON-profit sector until 3 years ago (I was almost 78 when the NPO went bankrupt). NPO salaries and benefits usually do not equal those of the private sector, which can result in significantly lower retirement income (lower S/S, no pension), but age discrimination is not as common--or at least not as overt.

My husband was fired for made-up and demonstrably false reasons in his late 50s by Xerox. I have since learned that this "socially responsible" employer does this with regularity. He was devastated. After years with high marks for customer service, he was fired just before the first of the month, as management needed to lower payroll to save the account. Instant karma worked and they lost the account anyway. My husband never earned at that level again, but I remained employed.

My sweetheart was depressed and anxious for nearly a year. He lost another job six months later, but won unemployment based on the Xerox salary. That was just in time for the meltdown, so he kept getting recession extensions, which took him comfortably to 62 without touching savings. He applied for SocSec the month he qualified. I swear that a different man came out of the room than went in to apply online. The mental switch from unemployed to retired changed everything.

What saved us was our habit of living below our means.

I suggest everyone in their late forties and up downsize now and just save. Make friends of all ages and try to form a community of mutual assistance. Cook more and eat out less. Make your own coffee and carry a thermos. Neither the global corporate hegemony nor our government will save us.

I have to agree with Lola (the relocation specialist) who said that using the bottom line to get rid of the "dead wood' was a form of age discrimination.
In 2004, at age 62, we were told that our companies entire NYC division would be relocating to (of all places) Colorado. and that anybody who went with them would be automatically re-hired. "Re-hired?" Essentially what that meant was that we would be considered new employees with less benefits and new employee starting salaries.
Now tell me, what older person would be willing to pick up, move to Colorado and start over again at less than half their present salary? This was a case of defacto age discrimination at its finest.

Elizabeth wrote: "What saved us was our habit of living below our means. I suggest everyone in their late forties and up downsize now and just save. "

YESSS! That's what we did, and it totally worked. (We're 66 & 74 now).

My husband's career required us to move several times. We had very little choice about where, so, fortunately, two of the places in the last few decades were very low cost places. Instead of buying bigger houses or newer cars in order to "enjoy life more" in places we really didn't want to be in anyway, we maxed out our retirement plans. Anything above that, we saved on our own.

My own career got pretty much derailed two moves in, when I was in my mid-50s. All that saving stood me in great stead. Next move, I was able to contribute with a part-time job, but I saw many, many of my contemporaries (by now, 60-ish) in that city grimly un- or underemployed. Not pretty. A very bleak waste of talent.

My advice today to anyone in their ever-more-unstable "prime working" years is to watch that credit card debt, stay out of the mall and buy FAR less house than the bank says you "can afford." (They won't have to earn that money, after all; you will.)

We had some advantages. My son from a previous marriage was grown and out of college, and our parents were largely independent right to the end of their lives, so we weren't tied to a location. But we did have to move to places we wouldn't have chosen, and we still have a pretty minimalist lifestyle--that turns out to be a tough habit to break. I hyperventilate when I even think about new furniture or home improvements because they were out of consideration for so long.

I echo those fervent thanks for Social Security and Medicare. I just don't see how many Americans could survive without it.

My Son-in-law (52) was fired after 25 years working in a software developing company as a manager and in "HR". It was the giant company that had eaten the large company that had eaten the small company he had originally started with who let him go. Of my 4 SILs, I had thought his job had the most security. They gave him a year's salary and bennies. A friend hired him to help out in his construction business a little, he partnered with someone to sell stuff on Amazon (an interesting topic to explore, folks), and he prayed a lot. I guess god heard him and found a half time job managing his church's buildings. Four of their 7 kids are either in college or headed toward college. I frankly don't know how they are managing financially, but they don't seem too stressed out. I think they really believe that god will take care of them. I just hope my name doesn't change to "god".

Then there's the situation at the Coop where I live. We can't seem to hire a half time person to be Member Services Mgr., a perfect fit for someone who may need extra income in voluntary or forced retirement.

Then there's my 76 y/o girlfriend who keeps trying to stay retired from administrative support jobs at our local State U. but is begged to come fill in when vacancies need to be filled. She has a fabulous deal going here since she can work when she wants and travel on the proceeds.

With the unemployment rate as historically low as it is now, perhaps older people looking for work will be a last resort option. (what a come-down).

In this time of "rating" just about everything, why not give the offending companies you know of a blistering one star rating with comment on their age discrimination? I would like to name the company that fired my SIL, but, Ronni, I don't think you're OK with that so I'll go give them a one star instead.

PS from Tarzana.

The company that fired my SIL was Thomson Reuters in Ann Arbor.

(take this down if not ok, Ronni.)

Six months shy of turning 62, I was fired ("laid off due to restructuring") for the only time in 49 years of work. Stunned! I lived in a community with at least 6 colleges and universities. 3 months of Job seeking yielded only entry level minimum wage jobs. I have a degree in education, taught, and ran very successful child care programs. Had to accept facts, dumped everything, moved to live with sister with only 2 suitcases. Wept and ranted the whole way. 8 years later, I am ok, but I had planned to work until 70. The reduction in SS monthly payments is significant. It remains one of the worst experiences of my life.

I would tell a tale of getting canned from the company where I worked up until I was 13 months from being eligible for 50% of my highest salary but it’s like so many of the others that have posted here.
The 1 0r 2 percenters who run these corporations are totally unconcerned with effects of their cutbacks on the people who are affected but only thinking about “the bottom line” and how that will affect their portfolio contains “huge” amounts of stock options. The rich get richer and the rest of us get screwed

Without a union you have no voice.

I was a secretary for 13 years before returning to uni for my teaching degree. No forced retirement, equal pay for equal work, and room for creativity, which the business world severely lacked.

But my secretarial years?

Witnessed so many examples of people getting fired for their age or other flimsy reasons. Back then there was no recourse. No way to fight back.

One example- a pharmaceutical company. A woman was laid off because "she was overweight." I kid you not. The office had a cafeteria and the woman waited on tables. The boss said he didn't like looking at her while he was eating lunch.

So they fired her.

I could go back and punch that boss!!

Another office- a salesman was let go because he turned fifty. Boss said the man did not fit the company image. I was disgusted by these discriminating behaviours and learned way too much about the cut throat practices of not ALL, but some businesses.

I could not wait to get my first teaching job. The principal that hired me said he was looking for a candidate that had real world experience, someone who had difficulties in school but went back to uni as a mature student.

That principal interviewed me while three other younger candidates waited outside his office. I was holding a sock puppet I created from a lumberjack sock.

The principal asked me who was going to answer the questions- me or the sock puppet?

Big nervous laugh.. Thought I blew it. But no..

Interview over, he reached back, grabbed something from a shelf and tossed it to me.

"Here's the key to room 25. Your class. Go up there, walk around, make yourself at home. Have a good year."

What?

He tossed me the key. I started bawling. I was at least ten years older than the other candidates.

Room 25.

I opened the door to room 25 and started dancing.

Ronni, I love this topic and the responses are fantastic.

Research X***X a once very large and booming copier company. The story appeared in the mid- to- late 80s and was so impersonal 3,500 employees of a 'certain age group' were let go. The story was so outrageous it appeared on 60 Minutes. The company even went so far as to explain why those folks were let go: Older folks have vision and hearing problems - therefore causing a greater expense.

How do I know? I was there!

The courts ruled in the favor of the class action suit. But . . . each individual would have to retain their own attorney and proof each of their own cases.

Go figure, huh . . . ?

Because I was still in my 20's, I forgot to mention above that the job I had then ('59-'61), that of a Flight Attendant, depended on my staying single and not being 32 years "old". Of course we were on the planes solely for the passengers' safety. Hah! I quit to get married before I had to face that early retirement requirement. Soon thereafter a Flight Attendant's Union sprang up and things changed. I love seeing grey-haired attendants when I travel now.

In the early '90s the Univ. where my husband worked began weeding out the older faculty by offering generous early retirement packages, which was too good to refuse for him. He was only 61.

I learned years ago that turnover is ACTUALLY a corporate strategy...for several reasons...one of them being cost reduction. Senior employees are significantly more expensive in terms of pay, health care, vacation, and other things. They also are less willing to suffer fools.


When you see a company pick up and move hundreds of miles away. It's quite likely less to avoid high taxes, but to shake some longer term employees off the tree.

It may be illegal and it's painful for all of us who have experienced it, but it is what it is...and hard to fight in court.

These comments are oh so very interesting. It's like we are all united in this traumatic phase pushed upon us due to age. I notice I'm not the only one that has bad dreams about the struggle. Sometimes I'm at the office wondering how I'm allowed to be there and how long until they'll figure out that I "took the package" and not one of them. Other times, I'm outside looking in through the window wishing they'd let me in. And so on. You get the drift--not good but their frequency is waning--thank God. John

I remember well some of the emotional challenges you described experiencing at the time you were leaving NYC. My heart went out to you as I wanted to provide emotional support, though I subsequently became concerned my adjusting simultaneously to my husband’s sudden death may have ultimately resulted in a period of less than so actions from me and quite contrary to my nature.

My husband had experienced age discrimination decades earlier, actually admitted to him by one corporate America Personnel Director (HR now), when my husband was only in his forties. The PD said he’d hire my husband in a minute, but knew the application would be rejected if he recommended it (plus reflect poorly on him for forwarding my husband’s application) because superiors want younger people they can “mold” and older workers are more “set in their ways”.

Forty Plus was the prominent organization then, as I recall, to provide support for those subjected to employment age discrimination. My husband hadn’t lost his job, but left the business in which he had been the only non-family member partner and had returned to the University where he completed a degree, but planned to move into a related but different profession. Long afterward he did receive job offers but not from corporate America and did become employed.

I also have personal knowledge of a younger person with whom I’m close who was a long time IBM employee caught up in the activities to which you allude here. There was definitely a feeling of betrayal that promises were broken affecting long term retirement expectations and reduced health care benefits. The person’s long time loyalty and dedication when in late fifties age was described as not being reciprocated — reportedly contrary to highly touted IBM philosophy the person believed had set them apart from others in the tech and many other businesses.

I'm 70 and still teaching college as an adjunct. (Little pay but I love it!) Before this second career I worked a corporate job for many years. So many people my age ask, "When are you going to retire?" Well, I don't want to retire! We seem to live in a world that can't quite understand that being 70 doesn't mean we're ready to be -- or want to be -- "put out to pasture." If teaching opportunities become unavailable to me, I can't even imagine anyone else wanting to hire me. That's a tough pill to swallow...

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