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The Grey Ceiling: How Old is Too Old?

Workplace Age Discrimination Issues


According to the House of Representatives, when it voted unanimously to repeal the Social Security earnings cap, removing the limit on earnings enabled many more older Americans to work. Recent articles pitched working at McDonald's, working at Target, and other opportunities to ring cash registers and wait on customers. About 12% of people over 65 currently work and the leading occupation of these older employees is food preparation and service, followed by farming and sales (including retail).

Are these the occupations that older workers prefer, because of the flexible hours and the part-time opportunities? Or would seniors rather use the skills learned in a lifetime of professional employment to continue their career?

When Age Discrimination Starts

Is it only senior citizens who are being funneled into employment requiring low-level skills and lacking in compensation? I don't think so. Robert, 60, sent out over 350 resumes in the year and half it took him to find a management position. Ramona, 59, is bilingual, computer literate, and has extensive experience. She would love to continue working but says "if employers do not give us a chance to prove that we can perform as well as anybody else that is younger... how are we going to continue being in the workforce?".

George, 58, has an MBA and a wealth of experience. He has been seeking employment since January and finally has a couple of interviews scheduled. Della was told by a District Manager that women in their 40's couldn't handle lifting heavy fitness equipment and have mood swings. Despite that, she was hired for the job "until he could find a young, strong man" and successfully turned the business around.

I have even heard from people in their mid-thirties and forties that they believe their age is a handicap when seeking employment. It's ironic considering these facts from Go60.com:

  • Over 16 million Americans over 55 are working or seeking employment
  • Research has found no relationship between age and job performance
  • There will be a severe labor shortage by 2010 as baby boomers begin to retire
In addition to the obvious age discrimination issues, what is happening in the workplace? Joyce Lain Kennedy, noted career columnist and author, said in a recent column "Older workers continue to have a steep hiring curve to climb". From the job seekers perspective, Della says "It will be wonderful when the people of this world come to realize that there is nothing WRONG with being older. It is a privilege and an honor."

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