Yesterday I went to a local retailer to order some glasses. The lady who greeted me was nice, but she asked, "Do you need progressive lenses?"
Ah, I'm no longer getting that, "Oh, but you look too young to have grown kids!" Now I'm getting the "Depends are on aisle 5" looks.
Must be the gray in my hair, which is there, of course, because I had to stop coloring due to allergies. If that happened to every woman, we'd have a bunch of women running around with dark hair and rashes! But seriously, in our society, gray is bad. Gray could cost you your chance at a job.
I told the salesperson that I was not yet in progressive lenses. She had about 10 years on me, but her hair was still dark all the way to the roots; not that it hid her age, mind you. The skin does tend to tell on us ladies. We don't always age as gracefully as our male counterparts, but I digress.
While she processed my insurance, we chatted about work. She thought it was amazing that I could work from home, and like most people, she said she wished she could do the same. "Oh but I can't leave this job," she said. "I might not be able to get another one. I'm in my fifties, you know."
Well isn't that the saddest, truest thing you've ever heard? In a country full of baby boomers who never wanted to admit we could grow old, we have created a society that can't stand old people - to the point they won't hire them! Add to this the fact that these boomers (the oldest of whom turned 60 last year) didn't have 401k plans through their employers until late in the last century, who thought that Social Security would be enough, along with their "life savings" to carry them into retirement. Unlike their parents, who had a pension to go along with Social Security if they stayed at their factory job long enough, boomers have no pensions, for the most part (some companies still provide them, but most do not). My parents didn't have a pension, since my dad was a contractor and my mom was a stay at home mom until she divorced my dad when she was 49. I got to see first-hand what Social Security is worth: a home in the projects and government cheese.
Without going any further into the monetary aspect (which could fill another Sunday Soapbox article), let's consider the plight of the baby boomers. Little to nothing in a 401k or pension plan. Even if they socked it away as fast as they could when the plans became available, an iffy stock market could have taken it all away again. Facing retirement without enough cash, they realize they must keep working. Maybe they feel pretty good and are as sharp in the mind as ever (after all Hillary turned 60 last year and is going great guns), can they actually find a job or keep the one they have?
Companies have ways of dealing with people they no longer want on the payroll. Perhaps the insurance premiums are higher on older workers; I don't know. Have you heard of re-orgs? Have you heard of RIFs (reduction in force)? Have you heard of layoffs? Time after time I've seen older workers "let go" in one form or another. Either they are encouraged to take early retirement (which always sounds good, but then again, we figure we can get another job if we need one), or they are part of a layoff. Either way, it isn't ageism legally. No one could prove that the company let a worker go because of his or her age. Usually there is a mixture of ages and genders. In fact, a company I worked for who offered early retirements and exit packages because of troubled times sent around a list of genders and ages of each employee (no names included) who was leaving, presumably so we would know that they weren't discriminating. Hmm. What is that about the guilty dog barking the loudest?
A couple of relatives of mine have had trouble finding work. The resumes look good. The work history and references are solid. The mind and the skills are still there enough to ace the phone interviews. And then suddenly...interest dies after the face-to-face interview. You can almost hear the interviewer going, "Oh...you didn't say you were old."
What a sad state of affairs this is. Young people are looking at McCain and saying,"Ugh! He's too old to be president." (I'm trying to be fair here and mention political candidates of both parties!) These same young people are looking at Obama and saying, "Yes! We can identify with him. His hair isn't gray and he looks young, like us!" I've heard some people talk about Clinton, saying she's a dried up old woman or that she'll make bad decisions while PMS'ing (umm...folks? We're more likely that she'll suffer from sleep deprivation due to night sweats!)
I don't think that 60 is "dried up" anymore. She has far more energy at her age than I have at mine. What I mean is, age is just a number. She is in good health. McCain appears to be in good health. Obama is in good health. They are all good speakers, energetic campaigners, and capable candidates, no matter their age. It's probably a good thing they didn't have to have a face-to-face interview with a 30-something in order to get on the campaign trail. They might be seen as liabilities.
I've heard that we're facing shortages of workers in certain sectors in our workforce: IT, nursing, almost every other healthcare job, teaching, etc. Well, my afore-mentioned relatives work in IT, but their age seems to be a problem. Why? I don't get it.
What's going to happen when all of these folks become a burden on the Social Security system, not because they want to be but because they are forced into it by the ageist culture in which we live? What will happen is that what is left of Social Security will be gone. Those who are discriminating against the aging population will find that they have less security going into their golden years than they had before. Will they understand that they helped create the situation? Probably not.
Think about that next time you hear that we have fewer people than ever paying into the Social Security fund. That might not be the case if we didn't force our older folks into a retirement they don't want.
Peace - D