July 7, 2010
-- by Dave Johnson
Tell us your own story in the comments, please!
Here is a fact: There. Are. No. Jobs. I'm in Silicon Valley where the official unemployment rate dipped in May to 11.2%. This dip was, of course, because of so many people just giving up trying to get a job, certainly not because of some wave of hiring. The underemployed figure, known as "U-6," is 21.7% in California, 16.7% nationally.
You have to know someone to get a humiliating job standing on a corner waving a sign. And if you are over 40, things are even worse than that. Don't give me any conservative Rush Limbaugh-Ayn Rand dehumanizing nonsense about parasitic lazy people who won't look—there are no jobs.
I know so many people here who are over 40, were laid off in the 2000-era dot com crash, still haven't found a regular job and aren't going to. They have had occasional "contract" positions—which means no benefits, no security, a 15% "self-employment" tax and no unemployment check when the job ends. And now, 10 years later they're a lot over 40 and are not going to find a job because so many employers here won't hire people over 40.
And now there are so many more who lost their jobs in the mass layoffs of 2008-2009 and can't find a job. So many of them are also over 40. In fact, many were laid off in obvious purges of over-40 workers, offered a small severance that they could only receive if they promised to take no age-discrimination action against the employer. (I don't say "company" because some of these worked at nonprofits.)
Most of these people will not find another job, but are too young for Medicare and Social Security.
One Person's Story
I ran into a friend this weekend who I hadn't seen for a couple of years. He had been a computer engineer who had been making 6 figures in the dot-com years. Laid off in the 2000 crash, he moved in with his parents back in the Midwest and worked in a bakery. He came back out here when things picked up a bit and worked in one "contract" job after another. (Contracting is just a scam to get around employment laws—but the government doesn't enforce the rules.) But now he just can't find anything. He managed to get unemployment but now that is running out. He has no health insurance. He can't afford a place to live; he "house sits" for people or visits friends, and doesn't know what he is going to do even two days from now.
What is he going to do? Can you tell me? He has gotten a few interviews, and when they are computer-related is always told he is way overqualified, doesn't seem energetic, probably won't be willing to work 20 hours a day, doesn't look like he is up to date on things that are happening with computers, etc. (How many ways can you say "too old?") He's about 45. If things pick up he will get another job. But people just a few years older will not.
Blatant Age Discrimination
Age discrimination is a thing with me because it is so blatant here. It's the culture here, some even say that for programmers it is "35 and out." At various times looking for work I've been told I "seemed tired" and things like that. I was even told once that I wouldn't be able to market some software because I "wouldn't be able to get my mind around" how it worked—when I had designed and written part of it in a previous life. One company here is said to have only 200 over-40 employees out of 20,000.
But it certainly is not a problem that only exists in Silicon Valley. Tell your own story in the comments, please, get this discussion going!
What are people supposed to do? You can't get Medicare until you are 65, and Social Security until 67. But it's near-impossible to get a job or health insurance if you are over 50. I wonder what the effect would be if the government started again enforcing its own rules on age discrimination and contracting.
Among other things Congress needs to get things going by passing the George Miller "Local Jobs for America Act." .
Posted by Dave Johnson at July 7, 2010 11:22 AM
I'm not a software engineer or anything quite as sexy; just an admin slug tryin' to make a living for the family. I've been temping for the past two years since being laid off by the construction company I'd been working for for five years, and thank God for the US Census.
Anyway, at one of my temp jobs, the office manager one day walked out into the main area where I (at age 57) and three other temps (twenty-somethings) were working and said, We really need to hire somebody young because young people are more amenable to training and won't leave the company as soon as something better comes along.
That was bullshit on both counts, of course. The funny thing was that, unbeknownst to the OM, I had recently been offered a job by her boss, the president. Three weeks later, the offer was withdrawn. Six months later, I went back to that company on another temp assignment and saw that they had indeed hired two or three young people.
Should I file a grievance? Of course. Have I? No.
I'm still here in Oregon. I was 55 when I lost my job as a manufacturing engineer in 2001. Yes. my job and my factory were shipped to China. I saw it coming and had managed to seriously simplify my life and pay off debt. I have been working for myself doing photography, web design, home improvement projects - anything that would pay. I was of course unable to get health insurance after COBRA ran out so I have been without for eight years. Nine more months and Medicare kicks in. I'm sure I will be a higher cost Medicare patient because of no medical care for eight years. I started collecting SS at 64 out of necessity since I would have starved to death in my tent before I turned 66. This is a good summary of how we got where we are.
Posted by: Ron Beasley at July 11, 2010 4:05 PM
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