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Friday, July 14, 2006

Age Discrimination: Blame the Victim

I am reprinting Ronni Bennett's post of today from her excellent Blog - Time Goes By - what it's really like to get older.

First, here is the comment I posted in response (for other comments please follow the link).

Hi Ronni,

I am new to your blog, also. I have found the job-hunting experience so discouraging and frustrating that I have simply given up.

I have found that the NYC job market is heavily skewed toward young people, illegal immigrants, and others willing to work for 'slave wages'. As Paul Krugman has pointed out, there are a very small number of highly paid positions in the city, mainly in finance - and a large number of very low-paying jobs in the service sector-bars, restaurants, Starbucks (I've worked there), healthcare, call centers (worked for one where everybody's salary was permanently frozen at $11/hr), etc. And this development mirrors job creation nationally, as we export more and more good jobs abroad. Employers just love offering these 'entry level' positions and could not care less about 'experience'- much less age discrimination laws.

I have over 20 years experience in the finance sector, but I have found it is almost worthless in today's job market.

I am planning to start collecting Social Security as soon as I turn 62 in 14 months.

And move out of NYC, and probably out of the U.S. to Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica or some other place I will actually be able to afford.


Now Ronni's Post:

Friday, 14 July 2006

Age Discrimination: Blame the Victim

category_bug_ageism.gif I was contacted by a man who is writing a story for the job website,, about how old people can “reposition their skills for today’s job market.”

Having no idea what that means, I asked the writer who said it refers to old people who are “afraid” to update their skills. When I pushed for a source for that piece of information, he told me it’s “all those old people out there” who say so.

Ah, I see. That’s certainly as reliable as a Pew survey or a Yankelovich poll, don’t you think?

I had been skeptical of this interview from the get-go and had warned the writer when he first emailed that I might not be the person who could best meet his needs since I’d already taken issue with his ageist assumptions a couple of years ago.

On that occasion, he had written approvingly that elders could take pay cuts of 20 percent to get a job (no matter their skills or experience, of course) because with their kids out of college, their living expenses are low.

Let’s see if that statement can withstand the TGB Bias Test by replacing the word “elders” with “blacks”: “…blacks can take pay cuts of 20 percent because their living expenses are low.”

As expected, it fails the test. The statement would never make it past the editor’s desk but, apparently, it’s okay when applied to elders.

Well, it wasn’t okay when it was published and it will never be okay. In print or in practice, that statement is morally reprehensible and typical of too much so-called “advice” to elders on getting a job.

In fact, it is an excellent example of pure, unadulterated age discrimination, the kind of ludicrous practice the women’s movement took down several decades ago. (It was once acceptable to pay women less than men for the same job because men had families to support and women didn’t.)

When I reminded the interviewer that I’d made such objections to his advice in the past, he told me it would be a waste of time to interview me and hung up. I’m sure he will find someone to quote who more closely matches his point of view on elder workers, which makes it important to speak up against the shameful tactic of most of the employment experts who in print and practice blame the victim.

Elder job seekers are invariably told to play the age discrimination game with the following advice:

  • Update you skills
  • Don’t list your college graduation date
  • Don’t list any jobs older than ten years
  • Use a “functional” not “chronological” resume
  • Be prepared for young interviewers to be shocked at your aged appearance after they’ve read your resume with no dates and assumed you are younger
  • Be sure you are well groomed for the interview

What’s wrong with this list? First, it is demeaning, but that is the least of it. These and similar directives (one “expert” recommends cosmetic surgery) from headhunters, recruiters, employment experts and job sites such as abet a real crime.

There are federal and local laws against age discrimination in the workplace that are flouted every day with a wink and a nod. When people who set themselves up as experts – many who consider themselves journalists - tell elders to hide their age, they are going along with a crime and in doing so, transferring the responsibility from the criminals – employers who practice age discrimination - onto elder victims of it. (“Well, if you give the actual year you graduated from college, of course they won’t hire you.”)

These people are telling us that we must lie or we will not be allowed to work no matter the law.

It’s much the same as the current debate on illegal immigrants. Whatever you believe their fate should be (stay or go), it is they who are taking the heat for usurping jobs Americans might or might not otherwise want. Meanwhile, their employers are allowed to reap billion-dollar profits on the backs of the immigrants who are paid slave wages.

And, according to a piece he wrote in 2004, the interviewer who hung up when I challenged his ageism believes that elders, like illegal immigrants, deserve no more than slave wages.

None of this will change until we – elders – demand to be treated as full citizens with all the rights and privileges we enjoyed before we committed the sin of getting old. What makes it harder than it would otherwise be is that being old isn’t the actual sin. The culture – employers, media, youth and beauty police, etc. – don’t really care how old anyone is as long as they appear to be young. These people are hypocrites even while blaming the victim.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)


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