Older job seekers face age discrimination, some face death

As the economy is said to improve, it’s doesn’t make any difference for a group of workers caught between the demographic borders. It’s good to see this issue getting some attention in traditional media:

Dallas Morning News — Companies don’t like to talk about it, but some job seekers, lawyers, researchers and people who help the unemployed say age discrimination in hiring exists. The Age Discrimination and Employment Act protects workers 40 and older, and forbids treating a job applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age. But proving age discrimination is difficult, said Robert Canino, an attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Dallas.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2009 raised the burden of proof in age discrimination lawsuits. Now, a person must show that age was the determining factor leading to an employer’s action, not just a contributing factor. Still, age discrimination complaints related to hiring, firing and promotions increased 45 percent in the last 15 years, according to the EEOC. “What we do know from talking to people is that hiring discrimination is really rampant out there,” said Laurie McCann, a senior attorney for AARP.

This is a big issue for me, obviously, considering what just happened, last week, during a hiring process for a lousy 16 dollar an hour customer service I was so qualified for it was sick. But it’s an even bigger issue for some people.

I’ve known two friends who died over the last year because they were unemployed. One was an architect, the other an engineer. They were both laid off early in the recession and could find no gainful employment, not even temp work in their field, no matter how many resumes they put in or how many interviews they went on. They exhausted unemployment insurance, savings, retirement savings, and charity. Is it at all unsurprising that eventually, they might have succumbed to depression from time to time, or had a difficult time getting fired up about that next job interview?

Over and over, as months turned into years, they had to make brutal financial choices, power bill or medications, gasoline for the car to get to an out of town job interview or risking a lapse on car insurance, etc. The very first thing that gets sorted to the bottom of the deck when you are facing that Faustian bargain are routine check ups and basic meds. One of them had developed borderline diabetes, one day they got into the bath tub, apparently their blood sugar crashed, they passed out, hit their head on the side and drowned. The other one got up one morning, was sitting on his bed, fell forward and there was no one there to reposition his body, check his airway, or call 9-11. They were 49 and 47 years-old respectively. They both probably fell prey to conditions that could have been easily prevented, or at least detected and managed. Neither had been to a doctor in years.

When this happened the knee-jerk reaction of almost everyone I saw, in one way or another, was to try to figure out some way that it was the deceased’s own fault. They didn’t try hard enough to get a job, they had a bad attitude, they got depressed and drank too much or laid around too much, their expectations were unrealistic, they didn’t know how to manage money — that last one is particularly hilarious. I would love to see how one manages money when fixed monthly expenses vastly exceed monthly income. Without engaging in fantasy, like step one: find an apartment or buy a house costing $50 a month  …

People would hang this post mortem diagnosis on the flimsiest of evidence, some offhand comment one made on the phone about wanting to get a pair of used ski boots. That single hearsay comment was used to justify the conclusion that that guy just didn’t have his priorities straight. Even though he never got any boots, he just supposedly mentioned one time to one friend that he saw some on Craigslist.

What Was He Doing Wasting Time On Craigslist Looking At Used Ski Boots! Aha! He Wasn’t Even TRYING. That explains everything.

And this wasn’t done by detractors or cruel people, this was what transpired among the closest friends who dearly loved the these guys. Because I assure you, this isn’t rare, it’s human nature. I’ve experienced it first-hand, blame and shame the unemployed or underemployed.

There was only one guy I know, in one case, who tried to intervene near the end and get one those friends some help. And the rest of us should have taken that concern a lot more seriously than we did.

They were victims of the recession, a recession they had no hand in at all, and they are just two out of uncounted thousands of middle-aged unemployed who never had a fucking chance.


  1. Trebuchet says

    Like it says in the article you quote, it’s not just job seekers. A few years back my former employer sold one of their assembly and engineering operations to another company. Sixty days before the takeover every employee got a layoff notice. Most got their jobs back — unless they were over fifty. And a federal judge sided with the companies.

  2. smhll says

    People would hang this post mortem diagnosis on the flimsiest of evidence, some offhand comment one made on the phone about wanting to get a pair of used ski boots. That single hearsay comment was used to justify the conclusion that that guy just didn’t have his priorities straight.

    I think the underlying ‘reasoning’ is if someone is ever the slightest bit imperfect, then hey, they deserve all of their misfortunes. (So wrong.) It’s a tragic Just World fallacy concocted by some kind of ostrich.

    You don’t deserve the suffering and insecurity you are experiencing.

    If we aren’t going to provide even minimal social welfare programs, then we need to at least provide respectable “workfare” jobs, as we did in the 30s.

    And I get furious when I hear people channeling Sarah Palin and talking about “death panels”. Obviously our hard to get and super-expensive health care is already killing people, and the people that aren’t quite killed by it have to wait for long intervals in pain when they need care. It’s terrible.

  3. foreverunemployed says

    I realize I’m replying almost a year too late here, but had to share my story as I’m almost the same age as the two poor souls in your story; I’m 46 and have been rendered completely unemployable by the new economy. I realize I made a huge mistake going into the field of graphic design (20 years ago, my first instructor in her first lecture said “when you turn 40 you can forget about working in this field” and sure enough I’ve struggled for a decade to find work) but I was foolishly confident I could always fall back on my business background and get an office job like the kinds I had 20 years ago after college. After my last contract gig dried up last year I began applying for those general office jobs — admin, secretary, typist, data entry, customer service…150 applications in one 8 week period. Not one response. The quality of jobs I began applying for deteriorated, like delivery driver, and back-room shelf stocker at Target for minimum wage. I landed an interview for that one by leaving my work history blank, but the reaction of the 20yo who interviewed me was downright embarrassing. I got the rejection email almost immediately. Where do you go when you’ve been rejected by Target? I tried to get work overseas but was stopped by the whole work permit issue. I am losing my home and my only option is to move into my mother’s basement (I have no spouse or children). I made the decision to end my life on my birthday in September. I’ve since decided to take a TEFL certification course which may or may not lead to opportunities teaching English overseas (my confidence has been completely shattered), but I’m not ruling out suicide as the thought of having to move to a third world nation for economic opportunities just makes me sick. I teeter between crying incessantly over this (nobody told me 30 years ago that I’d be unemployable at 46) and wanting to blow up the world from anger (I’ve begun a tumblr blog where I document every rotten experience I’ve had job searching, and I don’t hide the company names).

    My mom left her native country in eastern Europe 46 years ago because she wanted a better life, she didn’t want to remain a peasant. She was able to find steady good paying jobs in the local mills of my hometown, and we had a pretty good middle-class life. Now here I am, facing zero opportunities and becoming a freakin’ peasant. Something is very wrong here.

    Thanks for listening.

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