Published in the Pawtucket Times, November 29, 2013
Last Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics brought bad news to over 57,000 job-less Rhode Islanders. According to the federal agency, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate of 9.2 percent is the nation’s second highest, followed by Nevada’s rate that is one percent higher. Compare this to 7.3 percent, the national jobless rate for that month.
When hearing about the Ocean State’s national distinction of having one of the highest unemployment rates among fifty states, Henry Rosenthal, an Oak Hill, Pawtucket resident since 1955, who has been unemployed for 16 months, called it a “real disgrace. The dismal statistics released only confirmed what the older job hunter personally knows from sending out hundreds of resumes, it’s an extremely tough job market.
Older Job Seeker Can’t Find Work
But, to make matters worse, 63-year-old Rosenthal, and other aging baby boomers, will bluntly tell you that age discrimination is derailing their efforts of finding meaningful work that pays a decent wage and benefits.
Even if you totally believe that your age keeps you from getting a job, it is not always easy to sue because it is tough to prove, says Rosenthal.
In April 2012, his Dallas-based employer downsized, which led to Rosenthal losing his sales job of selling loan origination software to banks. Throughout his 45 year employment career, he had a very stable employment record. He only recalls two other jobs that were lost due to his lack of seniority when corporate mergers occurred.
Rosenthal, a graduate of Temple University, had always been able to find a new position quickly when losing a job because of his “skill set and previous work experience,” he says.
But today things are different.
Rhode Island’s puttering economy has kept Rosenthal from easily landing a new position. In the few times he was able to get his foot in the door for an interview, he was told afterwards that he was “perfectly qualified” for the position, in some instances even over-qualified, but ultimately he received no job offer.
“I honestly believe that jobs have not been offered to me because of age,” charges Rosenthal, who believes that ”younger people who oversee the hiring tend to be intimated with the older job applicants and feel threatened.”
Although it is against federal law [The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967] to ask applicants how old they are, “it’s easy to figure out how old a person is,” notes Rosenthal. “By asking when you graduated high school and college a company can figure out your age,” he says.
It’s About Who You Know
During his ongoing job search, Rosenthal quickly realized that in many cases it might just take a personal relationship in a company to get an interview. With all of his previous employers based either across the nation or located all over the world, he has very few contacts with the local business community, he notes.
“Unless you get a direct reference or have a personal connection with a potential employer, they just might hire a younger applicant because they can pay less money or think they won’t take time off because of health issues,” he quips.
“Research findings will tell you that older workers are more responsible and loyal than their younger colleagues, and have a better work ethic, too,” Rosenthal is quick to say. Don’t believe that older workers take more time off then younger employees, he adds.
As Thanksgiving approaches, Rosenthal keeps plugging along sending out resumes hoping to reel in that full-time job. With being two years shy of age 65, he says, “I am just not interested in retiring because I don’t have enough hobbies or interests to keep me busy.”
Like many other long-term unemployed Rhode Islanders, Rosenthal just tries to keep the faith, realizing that “sooner or later something will turn up. To survive, “you don’t look backward you just look forward.”
What Some Polls Say
It seems that Rosenthal is not alone in his belief that age can make a job search more challenging to find full-time employment. According to an Associated Press-NORC Center poll results, detailed in “Working Longer: Older Americans’ Attitudes on Work and Retirement,” 55 percent of those 50 and over who searched for employment in the past five years viewed their search as difficult, and 43 percent thought employers were concerned about their age.
The poll found that 69 percent of the older job seekers reported few available jobs 63 percent say the jobs did not pay well, nor did they offer good benefits (53 percent). Around one-third of the respondents were told they were over qualified [like Rosenthal].
But the October 2013 poll also revealed that some employers do value older workers. Forty three percent of the older respondents seeking employment in the last five years say they encountered a high demand for their skills, and 31 percent say there was a high demand for their experiences.
According to the poll’s findings, “unemployed people aged 45 to 54 were out of work 45 weeks on average, those 55 to 64 were jobless for 57 weeks and those 65 and older an average of 51 weeks.”
Meanwhile, an AARP poll also released last month, found age discrimination “rampant” in New York City for those age 50 and over. The researchers found that when an aging baby boomer loses a job it may take them about 4 months longer than younger job seekers to find another one.
Forty eight percent of the survey respondents claim they either personally experienced age discrimination or witnessed it directed at a family member or friend who has turned fifty years old. Almost half of these respondents either personally or witnessed a person not being hired because of their age.
Increasing Your Odds of Finding Work
Kathy Aguiar, principal employment and training interviewer at West Warwick-based Network Rhode Island Career Center. agrees with Rosenthal’s personal observations and the above cited poll results that indicate that older job seekers can be blocked from gaining meaningful employment by age discrimination. However, Aguiar, who has 25 years of assisting Rhode Island’s unemployed get work, tells me that there are job hunting skills and techniques that you can use to increase your odds in finding that job.
“It’s not the 1980s and with a 9.3 percent unemployment rate you must change with the times,” urges Aguiar, stressing that the 80s way of writing a resume is totally outdated today.
If your resume is not formatted correctly, computer systems, called Applicant Tracking Systems, won’t identify you as a potential candidate, says Aguiar, who says that “75 percent of the applicants applying by internet will be thrown out of the selection process because of this problem.”
Applicant Tracking Systems will skip over employment history if you put that information under “career development” instead of “work experience,” on your resume, adds Aguiar. “Always put the company’s name first, followed by job title, and employment dates.”
Aguiar warns applicants not to save resumes as PDF files because Applicant Tracking Systems cannot read this documents. Save it on a word file, she recommends.
Today, one resume does not fit all, notes Aguiar. Especially in Rhode Island you have to target your resume to the position you are seeking. You have to revise your resume to the position you are seeking. .
A well-written resume combined with using Social Media, including Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter, and good networking skills can lead to a successful job search, adds Aguiar.
Finally, one of the best ways to get an interview and ultimately becoming gainfully employed is by finding someone within a company to be a personal reference. “Who you know is still important, especially in Rhode Island.” You may even get extra points when your resume is reviewed because of the internal reference, she says.
National polls tell us that ageism is running rampant in the employment sector. You can not deny its existence when you continue to hear stories from those age 50 and over unemployed family members, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, who tell you about their frustrating and very challenging experiences of seeking gainful employment.
Only in this country do we not value the wisdom and knowledge that our elders provide us. It is time for a change in our thinking and attitudes.
If an employer is worried about his bottom line, just consider hiring an older worker. You will most certainly will get the bang for your buck by bringing in an aging baby boomer who is loyal, dependable, and brings a skill set and life experience that most certainly will benefit your company. To me, it’s a no brainer.
Herb Weiss LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org