ELDER MUSIC: 1954 Yet Again

Labor Day 2018: Stuck In Old People Jobs

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Don't forget, if you are interested the documentary film, RBG, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it will be broadcast this evening on CNN at 9PM and again at 12 midnight U.S. eastern time.

* * *

Between the beginning of the great recession in 2008 through the year 2010, 8.7 million U.S. workers, many at the peak of their careers, were laid off. Breakdown of the statistics by age is hard to come by but we can estimate that at least tens of thousands were within the last two or three or four years or so their working lives.

When jobs began to return, did they get back on track?

Through the years since the start of the recession I've wondered what happened to those people. And now that the country apparently has attained near-full employment, have they been hired?

As of last month, the number of jobs in the U.S. is 7.7 percent higher than at the start of the recession. So pretty much everyone should be employed, right?

Well, maybe. Except for the fact that the 7.7 percent comes out almost even equal with the number of new workers who have entered the workforce in that period of time. Even so, the unemployment rate is currently at a low 3.9 percent, a number that hasn't been seen since 2001.

Last week, the Boston Globe (paywall) took a look at what such a tight labor market means for older workers.

The jobless rate for workers 55 and older, 3.1 percent, looks good for those job seekers on it face.

”...but that’s little consolation to the longtime unemployed and underemployed in that age group," reports The Globe. "Research dating back to the 1980s shows that job options narrow for those over 50.

“Many of these workers get funneled into lower-paying 'old person jobs' — everything from retail sales clerks to security or school-crossing guards to taxi drivers, according to a 2016 study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.”

Plus, the same-old, same old false prejudices and objections to older workers are still widespread: that they expect higher wages; they increase health insurance costs; they are stuck in their ways and can't learn new skills. The Boston Globe:

”Fairly or not, employers’ reluctance to pay more for older workers can be the biggest obstacle, said Donald Klepper-Smith, chief economist at DataCore Partners, an economic research firm based in New Haven and Martha’s Vineyard.

“'Many employers are looking at what they’re paying a 60-year-old and they’re saying, Wait, I can hire two hungry 30-year-olds  for the same cost,' he said. Klepper-Smith, who is 64, added, 'My wife is joking right now that she’ll outsource me for two 30-year-olds.'”

I don't mean to be snide - well, maybe I do - is age and low wage now the only criteria? Do knowledge and experience have no place anymore in the workplace?

For older workers left out or left behind in those old people jobs, the future can be bleak. After years of no income and/or much lower income, their savings is often depleted, they don't make enough to pay off debts and save for their future which has its own consequences:

”...older employees continue to be pigeonholed into lower-wage positions, Rutledge said, with often dire financial consequences for their retirement savings and income.

“A lot of people think their earnings are going to grow as they get older,” he said. “When that doesn’t happen, it means they’ve probably overestimated how much they can save and what their Social Security benefits will be. And they’ll end up living on less.”

Although the number of unfilled jobs in the U.S. is the highest it has been in 17 years, ”...most of the openings are in sectors like retail, services, and transportation”, reports The Globe. Old people jobs.

Some say the job market is loosening up a bit and that that bodes well for age 55-plus workers. I'm not so optimistic. In all the years prior to the great recession, age discrimination in the workplace was in full force. Many TGB readers, including me, have been caught in that trap as we grew older.

Don't forget too that in the decade since the recession, the gig economy has taken off with its short-term jobs, low pay, often no health coverage, and freelancers and contractors usually required to pay the full Social Security tax including the employer half, not just their own contribution.

That affects workers of all ages but older ones have so little time to make up the difference for their retirement.

Employment these days is not a pretty picture for millions of people and I'm grateful to not be part of it any longer, either starting out or finishing up a career. Like many TGB readers, I had a taste of workplace discrimination when I was laid off at age 63 and couldn't get rehired in the extremely youth-oriented internet work world I had been part of for 10 years, or anywhere else.

That affected my Social Security benefit in the negative but I'm fortunate to have enough to get by in relative comfort anyway. I don't want for anything and I thank the gods daily for Medicare.

And contrary to what the Boston Globe seems to believe, age discrimination in the workplace has not gotten better with time.

It has been 51 years since the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was enacted by Congress. It is administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) but far too often the law favors employers over aggrieved employees.

One way that happens is that in legal proceedings, most employers have attorneys on staff or on retainer and they get paid whatever they are working on. They can drag out paperwork and other delays, as only lawyers can, until the (now laid off) plaintiff can't afford to pay his/her attorney any longer.

As pessimistic as I am, even the EEOC doesn't see much change in attitudes of the culture and employers toward older workers. In a historical overview published in 2017, the agency reported:

“Despite decades of research finding that age does not predict ability or performance, employers often fall back on precisely the ageist stereotypes the ADEA was enacted to prohibit.

“After 50 years of a federal law whose purpose is to promote the employment of older workers based on ability, age discrimination remains too common and too accepted.”

It is true that the workplace is in a huge transition and no one knows how or when or in what form it will settle down.

One thing can be counted on, however: age discrimination in the workplace is only one form of ageism and it will not go away until all forms of ageism are vanquished, and no one is stuck in an old person's job just because they are old.


I have been lucky in both my industries: Architectural Hardware and state transportation. No age limitations. Older people are thrown out of the "real world" workplace. Young, inexperienced, and impatient replacements, are used.
They don't always work out the best. Demographics are working against the world today. Older people may be necessary just to keep a status quo. Wagewise, we older people are a bargain. Many are settled without the exigencies of youth. Passing over older people today is like stepping over and ignoring a gold nugget.

Same picture in the UK. Low unemployment figures mask the dire straits some people are in - zero hours contracts, many companies insisting their workforce be self-employed, paying their own tax and national insurance, no holiday or sick pay. Food banks have multiplied.

Some supermarkets have a policy of employing older people to do meet and greet, stack shelves for peanuts. Oh dear, not a happy picture for so many in the twilight of their years.

Was there any mention of older workers wanting less physically demanding jobs, or shorter hours? It might not be a big factor but I'm sure there are many who deliberately seek easier jobs. I've often thought maybe I could just be a school crossing guard or work the admission/information booths at the national park and earn a little extra that way. Of course these jobs would be for just a bit of supplemental income, not full time positions.

But yes, at age 55 I was fired and replaced by two good-looking twenty-something blondes.

I find it interesting there has been no mention of the way employment office personnel skirt the issue of asking birthdate by asking, "What year did you graduate from high school?" That question seems to be 'legal'.

I was neatly pushed out of my, very well paid, high tech job and replaced with a young man who was fired about 6 months later. I was 64. Luckily had enough to keep me going until 65 and retired!

Ronni, while accepting the absolute truth of most of this, I must push back on one very incorrect assertion -- you wrote "One way that happens is that in legal proceedings, most employers have attorneys on staff or on retainer and they get paid whatever they are working on. They can drag out paperwork and other delays, as only lawyers can, until the (now laid off) plaintiff can't afford to pay his/her attorney any longer."

Remember, most employees bringing suits aren't paying their attorneys at all.

What you wrote is a really harmful misconception. This misconception is one reason that employees hurt by their employers' practices don't even try to seek legal help -- they think that they will have to pay a lawyer by the hour to get that help, which of course means doom for the poor employee.

Every state has a trial lawyer association (like the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association) full of lawyers whose practice includes taking cases on contingency, which is made possible by fee shifting statutes like the ADEA and state versions of it. Most of these state associations will have a sub-group of lawyers who specialize in bringing employment and civil rights claims -- claims which are almost always brought on contingency rather than with the employees paying by the hour.

(Contingency, meaning that you only pay the lawyer if you win and recover damages from the employer -- so you pay a percentage of your recovery at the end of the case; you don't pay any attorney fees during the case.)

Contingent fees are possible because civil rights and employment discrimination laws usually wind up in the books as fee-shifting statutes, which provide that an employer shown to have engaged in illegal discrimination must pay the employee's damages AND their attorney fees. (And it's often the threat of the attorney fees that makes the cases possible to settle properly.) And the fees are usually one way -- meaning that if the employee loses, they don't have to pay the employers' legal fees.

In my small solo practice, I can't afford to advance case costs -- so I ask clients to pay the filing fees and such (anything I have to go out of pocket for), but I don't bill them anything for my time.

Employers LOVE the false belief that you can't afford to consult an attorney about things like age discrimination in the workplace, because then you don't bother finding out whether you have a case or not.

Most attorneys who represent employees will offer a free consult or a flat fee to investigate and determine whether there is a case.

(The real problem is not that you can't afford an attorney -- the real threat to older workers is the same threat to all other workers: forced arbitration clauses that prevent you from ever getting the benefit of the laws at all, and that prevent you from bringing a collective action case on behalf of all the workers in one suit.)

At the age of 70, I have lived to experience age discrimination in seeking employment. Plus, I know other "seniors" who have also experienced it. Age discrimination is alive and not-so-well in the US.

Both my husbands 401K's collapsed twice, and tho they have rebounded they are nowhere near where they would have been.

Once, at a national company, there was no response from HR for a difficult situation. Another time, his company outsourced the workers to Mexico without checking the legalities and laid G off. Later they tried to hire folks back. By now he is in his 60's and sticking to this last job like chewing gum to a sidewalk.

I took early retirement. I saw the handwriting on the wall. It was a difficult decision. I thought I would be working until full SSA retirement age. My position was not filled after I left. Because I wanted to continue working, I applied for 9 jobs online. Only 1 contacted me so I went to work in a totally different non-traditional job paying minimum wage. I enjoyed it but I couldn't meet the weekly hours for completing the work; I always went over. After a year, I got an evaluation. No raise. An evaluation for a minimum wage job. Times have changed. I quit because I didn't want to make my supervisor look bad. I knew I could not do the job faster.

My brother, who is a year younger, has been laid off 2X in the last 10 years. He was laid off 2 years ago and is waiting to be called back to his job. He's been interviewed. His supervisor wants him. They claim they aren't making a profit. I just don't understand why companies can't keep workers until full SSA retirement age.

I am 70, and I would like to share a dirty secret. I am not as capable as I was at 60, let alone 50. My profession was highly paid; it required stamina, intellectual agility and decision-making skills. These days, I don't have the recall I once did. I'm beat by the end of an intense day and my concentration drifts. There are details that I might miss—usually before others notice, but I do.

I went back to work on a project for six months last year; the long days and stress damn near killed me. I'm not ageist, have fought it all my life, and work is not a binary system of capable/incompetent. But I know I am no longer at the top of my game.

I once filled out a job application that asked the question, Did you ever sue an employer?

What are the chances that you would be hired if you did or if you were part of a class action lawsuit?

In 2008, my husband was laid off from a U.S. high-tech company, in Israel. Since then he never found work, for all the usual reasons, did a lot of volunteering, then went back to college and studied law. He looked for an internship for 3 months, and was turned down, yup, for all the usual reasons, but was finally offered a position. Started there yesterday, and is close to ecstatic. I felt like going to the law firm and high-fiving them, but restrained myself...

The comments to this entry are closed.