Age Discrimination and Nashville

As a former union rep, I’ve seen way too many men and women in their late forties and fifties get laid off from solid, middle-class jobs, the victims of brutal downsizing.  Adding to the pain and humiliation, the management staff who are do the actual laying-off are usually people in their thirties.

These loyal employees now find themselves in the unhappy position of being too young to retire but too old to have a fair shot at being hired elsewhere.  Yes, everyone knows that it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age….just as it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of race.  Tell that to African-Americans.

Two observations:

First, given the eclectic tastes of entertainment consumers—coupled with the extent to which “cross-over” country music has come to resemble pop or centrist rock—is it too farfetched to predict that the Rolling Stones will one day perform at the Grand Ole Opry?  After all, the Stones have played every other venue.  Why not Nashville?

Consider:  If the convergence and cross-pollination of musical genres continues, we’ll soon see every manner of music all bunched up together somewhere in the middle.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, nothing at all.  Why should arbitrary labels matter?  Arguably, the day will come when the polar extremes are staked out by thrash metal on one side, and Alpine yodeling on the other.

Also, it’s a known fact that country music fans love older performers.  How cool would it be to see Mick Jagger (himself a 68-year old grandfather) standing on the exact same spot where Grandpa Jones, Minnie Pearl and Ferlin Husky once stood, wowing a wildly appreciative redneck audience with his signature rooster strut?

Second, do we all agree that, had we been a fly on the wall in the Stones’ dressing room, we would have repeatedly heard Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood scream at drummer Charlie Watts, urging the man to dye his goddamn hair?  “What the hell are you thinking, Charlie?  We’re in show business, dude.  Put some shoe polish on it like the rest of us.”

Watts is now 70 years old.  His hair, unlike that of the other band members—but befitting a man his age—is now snowy white, as white as an egret’s feathers, which, alas, in group photos, is a stark reminder to rock audiences of just how old the Stones are.  Indeed, the group celebrates its 50th anniversary next year.  When the Stones were formed, in April, 1962, Barack Obama was eight months old.

Back to labor unions.  When middle-aged employees were laid off, the Local supplied them with a short list of job-placement tips, most of which, admittedly, they’d probably already figured out.  Lose weight, dye your hair, dress “young,” look hip, make no references to old-fashioned stuff (because personnel managers will likely to be in their thirties), and appear energetic and eager to join the team (in fact, be sure to use the word “team” during your interview).

While there are many things you can do to enhance your job interview, there’s no way your can fake your age.  All you can hope to do is minimize its importance.  Although an employer can’t come right out and ask how old you are, they can (and will) ask what year you graduated from high school.  Simple arithmetic yields the bitter truth.

Moreover, if you falsify your application—if, for example, you boldly lie about your graduation date—you risk not only being fired when they find out, but if you happen to contract a serious (and expensive to treat) medical problem, companies have been known to pore over your job application, looking for discrepancies, no matter how minor, to avoid paying your medical bills.

Companies have been known to disqualify people for something so miniscule as inadvertently jotting down the wrong numerical street address of a former residence.  If they find out you fibbed about your age—even if they subsequently hired you and you turned out to be a highly valued, exemplary employee—they’ll pull the plug on you faster than you can say “geriatric,” refuse to pay any of your medical, and then you’re sunk.

The frustrating part of all this is that older people, despite the stereotypes, tend to make outstanding employees.  All that youthful stuff—the uncertainties, the mischief, the searching for one’s identity, etc.—is behind them.  In most cases, maturity has supplanted squirreliness.

Clearly, fifty-five isn’t what it used to be.  In case anyone hasn’t been paying attention, this world is crawling with nimble-minded senior citizens.  Fifty-five-year old new-hires, whether working in a factory or office setting, can turn out to be extremely valuable resources.  Unfortunately, not many companies see it that way.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]
[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]
[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]
[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]