Even though I’m a Millennial (meaning I was born 1981 – 2000), I still witness age discrimination towards older workers every day. I manage a federal employment program for low-income people over 55 years of age who experience various barriers to employment. My time is spent trying to expand employment and training opportunities for older job seekers, and I continually hear job seekers speak about their similar experiences interviewing with and working under younger managers. Almost without fail, age discrimination is cited as a contributing factor to unemployment.
The unemployment rates, at first glance, tell a different story. As of November 2011, unemployment of people age 25-34% was above the national average with 9.2% and unemployment amongst job seekers 55+ was well below with 6.4%. Whether the level of discrimination described to me is actual or perceived, the bottom line is that once unemployed, older job seekers stay unemployed much longer than their younger counterparts—and have since the beginning of the recession. This statistic reveals a cycle of issues that shouldn’t be ignored.
First the obvious issue- the longer any workers are out of work the less employable they become. Meanwhile, health care costs go up, home values go down, and retirement savings are lost. Then there’s the issue I would like to highlight—the older job seeker psyche.
Workforce development is my specialty, and I can tell you one of the most important skills for any job seeker is not to get discouraged by being told “no”—or in the world of online applications never even being acknowledged by employers.
I’ve also witnessed the breakdown of the job seekers psyche in my friends coming out of grad school with way too many loans and way too few job options, which I don’t take lightly. Nevertheless, it’s often more difficult with older job seekers.
The thousands of low-income older workers I work with have “barriers” to employment identified by the Department of Labor which might include being homeless, having a criminal background, having no employment experience, having low literacy, not speaking English, etc. However, when the greatest soft skill in regards to employment is not stopping with a no, lack of confidence often winds up being the greatest hurdle to overcome.
In my experience, this lack of self-confidence happens as the job seekers are systematically made to feel invisible within the workforce specifically, and dismissed within society generally. This feeling of invisibility is a deep hole — we all play a part in making different people part of our community visible.
Until I got this job, this group of people were never once on my radar. I ask you to think about the experience of older job seekers you know, acknowledge and validate their experience, and realize that will be you one day. And if you have the power to influence hiring decisions, please critically analyze the role your perceptions on age may play in those decisions.