Economy  
comments_image Comments

50 Is the New 65: Older Americans Are Getting Booted from Their Jobs -- and Denied New Opportunities

Age discrimination could be headed for you, sooner than you think.
 
 
Share

Photo Credit: shutterstock.com

 
 
 
 

Editor's note: This is part of Lynn Parramore's ongoing AlterNet series on job insecurity and part of the New Economic Dialogue Project.

In every corner of America, millions of people are terrified of losing their jobs and falling into financial ruin. Men and women with impressive professional achievements and credentials are being let go, nudged out and pushed aside. They are pounding the pavement and scouring the job sites, but find themselves turned away even for the most basic retail jobs. Not because they aren’t competent. Not because they lack skills. But simply because they have a gray hair or two.

This is not just a story of people in their 60s or 70s. Workers as young as 50 are shocked to find themselves suddenly tossed onto the employment rubbish heap, just when they felt on top of their game. They’re feeling stressed, angry and betrayed by a society which has benefited greatly from their contributions.

As the global population grows older, age discrimination is on the rise. It could be headed for you, much sooner than you think.

“I Got Thrown Away”

Jan, a marketing executive from southern California, is just 51, and she has already learned the heartbreak and frustration of age-related job insecurity.

She was flying high as the head of marketing for a large financial planning firm when she was laid off in 2009 at the age of 47. The recession had done its damage, and her firm had to let some people go — mostly the youngest and oldest employees. Jan understood why the layoff happened, as sad as it was. Her firm gave her great recommendations and kept her on as a consultant for a year.

But she was not prepared for what happened when she tried to find another job.

First Jan applied for positions similar to her previous employment at banks and other financial institutions. Nothing. Keeping upbeat, she widened the net, applying for all marketing and communications jobs advertised in a 40-mile radius of her home. Still nada. Finally, she started applying for retail jobs and was shocked to find that she could not even land these. Jan got an interview at Barnes & Noble, but the store didn’t call her back, and she wondered if all the young people on the floor had something to do with it. She tried a local bridal shop, thinking that she was the same age as the mothers of the brides and would be a good fit. They didn’t hire her. Even Target turned her down for a job as a store clerk. No reason was given. That’s when she started to panic.

“It’s been difficult on my family,” Jan says. “My husband was a lawyer, but he has become disabled. My daughter felt embarrassed that I couldn’t find a job, and I’ve had to explain to her why she shouldn’t be. I had to explain to her that I was not ashamed, that I was mad. I had done everything I was supposed to do. I had gone to college, then to grad school. I worked very hard and I had a lot of success. Then I got thrown away.”

In researching this article, I heard many stories like Jan’s, from Americans from all walks of life. A commercial fisherman with 30 years experience from Tucson, Arizona has sent out dozens of applications, but gets zero bites. An Ohio IT professional with over 30 years experience was let go after 15 years at his company, and now finds himself working in a bottom-tier customer service position with 20-year-olds.