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Getting Work at an Older Age Can Be a Challenge

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I am a 65-year-old woman facing a dilemma. I have a home in the South Bay where I have lived for the past 30 years.  For a variety of reasons, I took a home equity loan which I cannot continue paying.  I have tried to re-finance my home but the bank will not do the deal unless I have a full-time job. That’s the problem. I can only get part-time work. I believe my age is the obstacle in finding that full-time position. Any suggestions?    

Answer: You do have a dilemma. A sad part of your story is that your possible move is not driven by your own preference, priorities or desires, but by circumstances.

Let’s talk about the work aspect of your problem. You are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. It protects individuals 40 and older against discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation or other terms or privileges of employment. The law is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency.

Even with this federal protection, it is difficult to sue and win an age case; it takes time, energy and a probability of losing.

This is particularly true since a U.S. Supreme Court Ruling of June 2009. The court ruled that workers must bear the full burden of proving age as the deciding factor of their dismissal or demotion. The issue is of concern because from 2007 to 2009 the number of new age-bias claims rose by 29 percent.

When it comes to hiring, age discrimination is even more difficult to prove. Not getting the interview or not receiving an acknowledgment or call back provides little, if any, information that suggests ageism or discrimination.

The issue of age discrimination against women is not new. Indeed, at one point airline stewardesses were forced to retire at age 32. That changed somewhat in 1967, with the enactment of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protecting workers ages 40 to 65 from discrimination, though those under 40 were not protected.

Fortunately, despite terms such as the “weaker sex,” women have been empowered. Yet problems still exist.  Amy Engler, in an article for More Magazine, writes, “We live in a culture where beauty is youth and change trumps experience.”

According to research by Joanna Lahey, assistant professor of economics at the Bush School at Texas A&M, men and women candidates ages 35 to 45 were 40 percent more likely to be called for an interview than those 50-plus who had similar backgrounds and more years of experience. She notes that for each decade, older job seekers need to apply to 4-1/2 more positions just to get an interview.

Note that age stereotyping still occurs. In fact, ageism is one of the last “isms’ that is socially acceptable. We say things about age we would never say about other protected groups. And no one blinks.

What are your options? First, consider speaking to other bankers. They may evaluate your situation differently. Next, do a bit of a self-review:

  • Are you techno-savvy? Do you know basic word processing, Excel and other programs?
  • Do you have industry-specific knowledge or experience?
  • Have you determined which of your skills are transferable from one industry to another, or from one skill to another?
  • Have you consulted with a career coach, particularly one focusing on mid-to later- life career transitions?
  • Have you taken some tests to evaluate your knowledge, skills, talents and work-style preferences?
  • Have you considered restructuring your resume to be functional rather than chronological, highlighting the impact of your work?
  • Have you brushed up on interview skills?
  • Have you taken a look at your interview wardrobe? Is it up to date and appropriate?
  • Have you used social media, such as LinkedIn, as a networking tool?
  • Have you checked the newspaper for a listing of networking events?
  • Are you letting others know you are looking for full-time employment?

Consider contacting the Jewish Vocational Service which “helps people of all faiths and backgrounds navigate the changing job market, overcome barriers to employment and keep their dreams alive.”  Go to www.jvsla.org/programs-services.

Here’s a thought. If you have to move, consider an attitude transformation. Tell yourself that moving is a good idea. It’s a new opportunity to create a beautiful environment and to live fully.

Best wishes on embracing whatever change is necessary.

Copyright 2011 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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