By Yang Zhou
Tina Santos, a marketing executive from Cambridge, is just 55, and she is already frustrated by the instability of her job because of her age.
She was laid off in 2009 at the age of 47. She said her company began to fire people, mostly the youngest and oldest employees, because of the recession.
“I understood why the layoff happened, but I was not prepared for what happened when I tried to find another job,” Santos said. In the next year, she applied for different kinds of jobs in marketing and communications, but failed to get hired.
“Sometimes when I walked into the office to interview, I knew that I cannot be hired because all the staff there are young people,” she said.
Rick Ellis is the communications and social media coordinator in the Operation A.B.L.E. He is 60 years old. “Marketing is one of the fastest changing functions in a business, and you need people who understand the really new stuff, but you also need people who understand how things have been done traditionally,” he said. “It’s like in a football team where you need the fit young athletes but you also need the wise old heads at the back, helping to manage things.”
Jeff Devonde, 64, spent 18 months out of work before landing a contract at a new company in Cambridge, writing software for self-driving cars. He said he was passed over for a promotion for a candidate who was 10 years younger, although he was equally qualified for the position. He said that’s why he resigned from his previous company.
“When I graduated from college in 1977, I got offers from nine or 10 technology positions all over the country – in California, Massachusetts, and New York. But now, I need to spend more than one year to find a job,” Devonde said. “You still have an image of yourself as the 30-year-old, but the reality is you’re not that guy anymore.”
Median ages of newly developed tech company employees tend to skew young. (Source: Business Insider)
A report by American Association of Retired Persons showed about two-thirds of older workers (ages 45 to 57) said they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. And most of them believe it began in their 50s.
(Source: AARP )
Like any other form of discrimination, ageism is based on assumptions. “A common excuse for rejecting older employees is that they find it hard to keep up with the fast-changing world. Employers assume younger workers are more likely to know about the industry’s latest developments,” said Joan Cirillo, who is the president of Operation A.B.L.E, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people over 40 to find jobs.
Jacquelyn B. James, the director of Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, provided other reasons for the age imbalance in the workplace. “Younger workers ask for lower salaries and benefits. They are also less likely to have families, so they can focus on working and spend more time on it,” said James.
Although the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects workers over age 40 from harassment and discrimination in all aspects of employment, such as hiring, firing, training and promotions, these cases are extremely hard to prove.
“I am putting all my resumes out there and I feel like they are just going into a black hole,” said Santos. “To be honest, I can’t tell if it’s a kind of discrimination because you don’t know who got called for the interview or why, so it’s hard to prove that age was a factor.”
“If they are thinking of older workers at all, they are thinking only about graceful excuses,” Cirillo said. “It’s a major missed opportunity for American businesses. They are framing the question in terms of how will our older workers leave, rather than how can we take advantage of the potential productivity of our older Americans. That’s the real challenge.”
The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received more than 20,000 new cases in 2016 filed by people alleging they were experiencing age discrimination at work. However, the complaints have fallen since the Great Recession — totaling 20,144 in 2015 compared to a peak of 24,582 in 2008.
“Many senior employers with human resources staffs have accepted the reality of retaining workers longer because that is the main trend in the workforce, so they are changing policies to become flexible enough to attract and retain the most skilled, higher share of the workforce that is older,” said James.