Recent unemployment statistics look like things are getting better. Yet they don’t adequately count those seeking jobs who have fallen off the rolls or just given up. Nor do they reflect the underemployed who deserve better.
For me, this unemployment lesson began innocently one night in a busy Ohio coffee shop. The brightly lit coffeehouse seemed particularly inviting with the smell of freshly brewed beans filling the air.
The 20-something employee was a professional young lady destined for greater things. While she was preparing my skinny caramel latte, I absentmindedly asked, “Are you in school?”
Unfortunately, I had hit an obvious nerve. The brunette barista began pouring out her tragic tale of finishing college, landing her dream job then just as quickly being downsized. In the midst of this tirade, she mentioned something about owing a fortune in school loans.
With mounting agitation, the café server finally revealed the real culprit responsible. It turned out to be me because she blamed all the folks over 50 who refuse to retire as the reason young people can’t find a decent job. Instantly, my delicious java tasted as bitter as her unlined face looked.
Since I’m a journalist, I thought that explaining my side of the story might enable her to better understand life through bifocals.
For example, bitter barista probably doesn’t realize that our erratic retirement accounts aren’t what they once were. A volatile stock market, lack of savings, reduced home equity and longer life spans force folks into staying on the job. This probably won’t improve for future generations, since according to the U.S. Social Security Administration’s website, ssa.gov, 50 percent of the current 158 million American workers have no private pension plan, and 31 percent have no savings earmarked for retirement.
Besides economic need, there’s the ingrained work ethic that many boomers share. Admittedly, countless wage earners look forward to retirement to enjoy spending time with grandchildren and playing golf. But for others, our life purpose centers on the societal contribution that we make through our profession.
How about a word picture representing the heart cry of the over-50 displaced worker? Remember being a child sprawled out on your living room floor with a coloring book and crayons. While you were carefully coloring, staying in the lines, meticulously choosing each color, suddenly you heard your mother’s voice informing you that it was bedtime. If you were like me, you frantically wailed, “But I’m not done yet.”
But some baby boomers are done, even though they don’t want to be. According to recent AARP statistics, individuals over 55 have unemployment levels that have more than doubled since 2007.
In addition, a Reuters’ Money article by Mark Miller headlined “Older unemployed workers half as likely to get hired” outlines the challenge for aging Americans. Miller cites research from the Urban Institute displaying that seasoned employees are less likely to lose their jobs due to seniority. But if they do with the exception of successful C-level executives, it’s probably going to be an uphill battle for them to find new full-time employment.
This subtle, unspoken discrimination against mature workers was birthed in the dark days of recession. Employers can’t afford to hand over a coveted vacancy to an aging candidate who they fear might not be tech savvy or could increase their health insurance premiums and claims.
In fairness to skinny latte lady, her own path was never supposed to include being a barista with a college degree or moving back in with her parents to save money. Even though it might seem like a young-eat-old-worker world out there, coffee girl is desperately looking for a real job to call her own.
Older unemployed individuals aren’t giving up either. Experience can still open a door for part-time or consulting opportunities. You may be making less per hour than you could get for babysitting the neighbor’s kids. Nevertheless, you take it, proud to be part of the workforce again.
Others are opening small businesses to put themselves back to work. Information reported by Dane Stangler for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation shows boomers aged 55 to 64 account for the “highest rate of entrepreneurial activity” this past decade.
Bottom line, if you can’t find a job, you can create one. As a past small business owner, I know that being an entrepreneur is risky, especially in this economy. But if you are like me, I’ll bet you always told your mother, “Please, give me a little more time. I’m not done yet.”
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website atchristinaryanclaypool.com.