Reminders of the ageism seem visible everywhere these days. The movie Lady Bird depicts an unemployed father interviewing for a tech job for which he is highly qualified with the clear implication he’s not going to be hired because of his age. Upon exiting the building, he is surprised to run into his adopted son applying for the same position. The son, though a novice, gets the job.
A friend who is self-employed admits to hiding her age from co-workers and clients for fear the stereotype will damage her business. A relative remains unemployed for a decade, having been laid off in his mid-fifties. A public relations executive is underemployed as a clerk at an antique store, having been replaced following a lengthy illness.
Too often, the issue of age discrimination is viewed as an economic one rather than a civil rights issue. In other words, it’s shrugged off as inevitable in a capitalistic economy. This approach leaves people of all ages to find ways to cope with this reality.
Ageism is Widespread and Increasing
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports it received 20,857 complaints in 2016 alone, according to an article by Kenneth Terrell in the AARP Bulletin, in December, 2017. Mr. Terrell asserts that online application processes are making it easier to discriminate against older applicants. The article cites as evidence that firms often post lower level openings on sites which can be accessed only by college students.
Resorting to the Court System: A Difficult and Limited Solution
Despite the fact that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed five decades ago, relief from application to the courts is difficult and limited. Even when rejected older workers sue under discrimination laws, they face a major hurdle due to a 2009 federal court ruling that requires proving that age was more than just one factor in being passed over. The injured worker must show age was the primary reason for not being hired.
Many seniors who have been victims of ageism can’t even find an attorney to represent them because of low success rates and recovery amounts routine in age discrimination cases.
Fighting Ageism Ahead of Time
One way seniors can fight ageism is through their vote. Seek politicians who join in believing freedom from age discrimination is a civil right and support them with a donation and a vote.
Another strategy is to start early. Be realistic about the existence of age discrimination and create a plan of resistance against its effects during the first decade of adulthood. Plan a career path designed to minimize those effects by maintaining and increasing skills, adopting a savings plan and budget that can carry through periods of unemployment, and engaging in healthy living habits to maintain mental sharpness and physical fitness.
Fighting Ageism in Job Hunting
Those facing ageism in job hunting in the present moment can Google “fighting ageism” and hundreds of articles from multiple sources will appear. In one form or another, all advise strategic planning before seeking an interview. Here are some pointers summarized from an article by Arnie Fertig, titled “5 Ways to Beat Age Discrimination in Hiring” published in US News:
Prepare to highlight strengths such as absence of the entitlement and self-absorption typical of younger workers; Present maturity as a value through stability, loyalty and ability to handle volatile situations in the workplace that younger workers may not have yet acquired; Highlight increased productivity compared with inexperienced hires. Stress reputation as a quick study; Stress the value experience adds to the job through knowing what works and what doesn’t - that is, knowing when not to reinvent the wheel; and Highlight up-to-date skills. Make certain ahead of time you are proficient in the latest technical skills required for the job and put these at the top of the resume. Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.