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The Old Need Not Apply

Photo Source Marco Verch | CC BY 2.0

Employment discrimination is as old as this nation. In their turn, blacks, Latinos, Jews, women and others have all seen employment opportunities that needed to have been somewhat buttressed by the strength of their resumes and experience given short shrift.

With older workers, unemployment is no mere chimera. The Center on Aging and Work at Boston College cites research from Kosanovich and Theodossio  in “Trends in long-term unemployment” (2015): “The incidence  of long-term unemployment increases with age.” Those 55 years old and older looking for work for 27 weeks and longer had a 44.6 percent unemployment rate. Talk about age discrimination!

The first premise of a job search has almost universally been that “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Given that American Exceptionalism falsely holds that we are living in a meritocracy, most know better. When the shoe leather hits the streets most already have learned a different lesson. There is a startling contrast between job searches and job offers for those who are old. A good guess is that if a perspective employee lied in a resume and listed a phony and younger year of birth, that that person would get many, many more interviews. Of course, that person would be rejected once he/she showed up for an interview for obvious reasons. Employers can blatantly discriminate against prospective workers, but a job applicant can’t lie on a resume.

I began looking for work a few months ago. In terms of the jobs I was applying for—library supervisor, academic advisor, test administer and test administration supervisor, I naively thought that my prospects were excellent since I possessed a solid resume of work experience, education, and a myriad of community volunteer experiences.

What a shock when I began receiving stark email rejections or no rejections at all… just  silence in some cases. Sometimes silence feels better than a lie like emails stating that you were one of an amazing array of highly qualified applicants. This was all very, very frustrating because I’ve got skills that would enable me to actually be of use in the work environments for which I had applied. I could actually help people, but that often doesn’t matter to employers.

Since names are named here and facts matter, let’s start with a school in northwestern Connecticut that caters to the elite who happen to be of a particular social, economic and political class (and usually of the same religious persuasion looking at the school’s list of notable graduates). That prep school’s online application was tortuous to complete. When a person has an extensive work history and education, the time it takes to fill out one of these kinds of applications is astronomical. For that effort, I received a form letter rejection a few months after applying for the job via email touting the pool of candidates. Readers might think that all of the professional talent of the world is centered around the Litchfield Hills of northwestern Connecticut.

Next, I applied for the library job mentioned above. The hours were bizarre, but hey, I’ve got time on my hands and lots of library and research experience, so I thought I was a shoo-in for at least a first interview. Wrong again, and in this case I didn’t even receive the form email congratulating me for being an unseen and uninterviewed genius.

The list of applications does go on, but after three, maybe there was some magic there. I received an offer to come for an interview from a company that has a contract with the government to administer standardized tests at three grade levels for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the data from which the “nation’s report card” for education is gathered, which actually is quite useful data for studying trends in education.

Here I struck it rich and it appeared that the interview would be just a formality. I also received an email of interview guidelines and was somewhat shocked to read that the dress requirements for the work were somewhat like those for my freshman year in college many decades ago. I would have to dress as if I was to attend a semi-formal dance or dinner each morning and be at a classroom desk fifty miles from my home at 7:00 AM each day. And now here’s the kicker: All of these requirements and the educational experience to administer these tests would garner $13.15 per hour. That’s right readers, your eyes are not deceiving you… $13.15 an hour. I calculated that I would probably wreck a car with that daily roundtrip commute during the winter months that can be quite severe here, and I would have pocket change left to show for those Herculean efforts.

Pretty amazing conclusions can be easily drawn here, and in the current anti-worker and anti-union environment many won’t be shocked in the least. All of this reminded me of a make-work job I had while I was in high school. I got the job through family connections and the work involved the daily sweeping of the floor of a huge U.S. Navy warehouse on a naval base in Rhode Island. The place was humungous, but that was all that was available because the young don’t exactly have great job prospects in this society either.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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