The holidays are officially over and life is getting back to full swing. That means a lot of you will be returning to work hopefully refreshed after the long holiday weekends. This brings me to a topic that I feel really needs to be discussed and that is ageism.
Ageism is real and it’s made even more real when you wake up to find that you are on the brink of losing everything you have worked for your entire life. You once had a thriving career or business but whether due to economic downturn or having to care for an ill parent or child you have been out of the workforce for a few years. It’s that day that you look in the mirror and realize you are not as young as you feel. You have more “wisdom lines” than you care to admit and the grey has taken over. You find you need, not desire, but truly need to find work to recover from your loss and earn a livable income only to find you are now considered unemployable. U.N.E.M.P.L.O.Y.A.B.L.E …. and you say to yourself I have mad skills, I have so much experience and expertise to offer why am I considered unemployable? Your answer?
You are now over the age of 50
You see in our society women are born caregivers. A woman who has worked up the corporate ladder, continuously educated herself to be better from an Associate’s Degree to a Masters Degree, worked 50, 60, 70 hours a week is still the primary caregiver to her family. Not only does she do the former, she also comes home to clean, wash, rear children, cook meals and chauffer her children and/or parents about. As she ages so does her parents, when our parents reach an age that they can no longer take care of themselves it’s always the woman who is somehow by nature deemed the one who leaves all of her goals and desires behind to serve her family. You can even factor disabled children into this scenario … for some reason, by nature perhaps, it’s the woman’s responsibility to assume the role of caregiver. But, once there is no one left to care for where does it leave this 50 plus year old woman after years of caregiving?
Swimming alone in the sea of a new society
If you haven’t noticed yet our society is a fast paced one, one of which changes it’s landscape in the blink of an eye. When you finally are able to resurface, you notice things have changed so much you, once again, have to reeducate yourself on even the basic principles of life. You may have voluntarily retired from a 25 year career to act as caregiver to your family for the last 5 years but employers aren’t interested on what happened the last 30 years they are only interested on what happened the last 5 years.
If you find yourself completing a job application for the first time in let’s say 15 years well what do you put down for the last 5 years, caregiver, right? The employer looks at that word “caregiver” sees that you have no job history during this caregiver time of your life. He or she then deems that you have nothing of value to offer the company.
You see, because caregivers don’t earn a wage then society devalues this natural born task deemed only for women. If they can’t put a number to it it has no value. Translation, you have no value as a caregiver because you weren’t being paid for the job. Not only that, you are now over 50, you are more of a liability than an asset even though you know you have so much to offer, a desire to commit yourself 110% to whatever position you have applied for and 50 plus years of life experience/expertise to offer. Nope … it doesn’t matter … you will be the first to get ticked off the “let’s set up an interview” list … this mentality leaves you feeling hopeless, depressed and still broke, still trying to survive in this sea of a new society. Some women have even been brought to the brink of suicide saying to themselves I have lived a full life why not get to my final destination and get it over with. It’s very sad.
There’s proof in the pudding
The past couple of months I did my own research on this topic … well, I call it research now but at the time I really wanted to enter the workforce in a part time position to bring in some extra money, pay down some debt we have acquired, step out of my introvert comfort zone and maybe make a few new friends. I have submitted applications to various companies for entry-level positions that had a fairly decent starting pay … $12.00 to $15.00 per hour. Many of these companies where on the Best Companies to Work For in 2017 List and every one of them were hiring … yep the companies where a good fit for me, offered the hours I needed with reasonably good entry level pay but I never made it to the interview process. Nope, as a matter of fact, it seemed they sent me the “I’m sorry” email as soon as I left the building. You see, in this new sea of a society they no longer give you the decency of a telephone call. Here’s one example that totally blew me away …
I applied for an entry level position as a “crew member” at my local Trader Joe’s. I love that store, I know all about their products, their philosophy and thought it would be a really good fit for me at this time of my life. I completed my application sans email address, attached my resume and personally delivered it to one of the store managers. She took a few minutes to look over my application, asked me a few questions about why I wanted to work there but I could tell she was just going through the process. Two days after I spoke to the store manager I sent her a hand written thank you note on my personal stationary which included my email address. I then get the “I’m sorry” email from the “Captain” of the store which was dated the same day as I took in my application, in fact it was just a few hours after I left the store but wasn’t sent until 4 days later when they received my thank you note. So, this is what I get from this … they had already determined within hours I was not a good fit for their company but instead of calling me he held it in his inbox as a draft (because I did not include my email address on the application) but once they received my thank you note with my email address he sent his email draft to my inbox.
I am educated. I had a 20 year career as a paralegal and owned my own business until 2010 the recession hit and I was forced to close down. The last 6 years I have been a caregiver to my mother and sister, both of whom have passed of cancer and have worked as a freelance writer part time. I told them I preferred working nights and occasional weekends which is usually looked upon as good when entering a retail position. Apparently, I don’t have anything of value to offer this company. Ageism at its finest!
Need more proof?
PBS.org’s economics correspondent, Paul Solman sat down with Teresa Ghilarducci, a labor economist in a segment of Making Sen$e and this is the beginning of their conversation:
Paul Solman: What explains discrimination against older women in the workplace?
Teresa Ghilarducci: So this is a really interesting finding, because we’ve all known about age discrimination, but I don’t think any of us thought that men were exempt. The fact that women are the ones that don’t get the jobs when they’re over 50 and looking for work does though, on second thought, make sense.
Paul Solman: Why does it make sense?
Teresa Ghilarducci: Well, a lot of what women do in their lives is punctuated by time outside of the labor market — taking care of family, taking care of children — and women’s labor has always been devalued. So if you have an older woman coming to you and applying for a job, you’re going to think about what kind of experiences she had, what kind of skills she might have. And rightly or wrongly, but probably unfairly, you’re going to assume that she had some time out of the labor market and that she was doing something that was basically worthless, because she wasn’t being paid for it.
The fact that caring labor is devalued in our society is something we’re going to have to confront when more and more people have to be cared for as they get older. But what it does right now is that it hits a woman really, really hard when she’s trying to get hired.
Paul Solman: What’s going through the mind of the employer?
Teresa Ghilarducci: So the employer is thinking, “Alright. I have a job applicant who doesn’t have the experience that I value.” That employer is also probably a man, and he’s living with a woman who he probably didn’t pay to do all that labor for him.
So he’s thinking about his partner, who he probably loves very much, but whose work he probably devalues, and he’s thinking about this job applicant that doesn’t have the experience he can recognize. And we all live, including this employer, in a patriarchal society, and the very definition of patriarchy is that women’s lives, women’s skills, what women are offering up, their potential economic value, is all devalued.
So we all know that women’s economic value is less than men’s. Women are paid less in almost every job. But what’s surprising is that the chances of women getting a job after age 50 are a lot lower than men’s chances of getting a job.
There is another good article written by Patricia Cohen of the New York Times, Over 50, Female and Jobless Even as Others Return to Work that I had previously referred to in my post Do You Know The Truth About Ageism and Women? that is still relevant at this time and a great read. To further support this writer’s research you must read the comments that came in from a multitude of women in the same position.
D.A. Wolfe wrote a great post which was meant to be both supportive and uplifting on her blog Daily Plate of Crazy entitled 50 Years Old and Starting Over. Where to Begin? While she, too, recognizes ageism for all its worth she does offer some hope but it isn’t until you read the plethora of comments to that post that bring you back to reality. Here’s a comment that especially touched my heart from D.A.’s blog post:
I lost steam when I read the career suggestions for those over 50: home health care provider, tourism, assisted living. Those are all jobs that offer minimal pay. Yes, there will be job openings in these fields, and pretty much anyone can get a job in home health care. It generally only requires a GED. But one can’t expect to make much more than minimum wage at a job like that. It’s certainly nothing upon which one can build a secure future.
You make many valid points. I wish each community had an outreach of women who found success starting over in their fifties. I think hearing that others have done it would be inspiring, and even if it couldn’t give those of us still struggling an immediate solution, it could at least give us hope, which is half the battle.
2 decades ago, I had made a very comfortable living in a position I’d held for 18 years, at the company from which I met my husband. I eventually resigned that position to start our family. Fast forward 15 years and 3 kids later, and I find myself the collateral damage of my husband’s self-focused mid-life crisis. As is fairly common, while my husband had forged ahead in his career, I lost mine, along with the seniority of my position, the weeks of vacation and personal time I’d accumulated, and the opportunites I’d had to add to my 401k. As my job was specialized in my corporation, I lost the ablility to transfer to another company; and my ex blocked every opportunity that opened for me to get back my previous postition.
I now make far less than I made 20 years ago, working a menial position as a shipping clerk. It’s heavy work and it’s humiliating for someone who feels they have so much more to offer. But I see no way to get ahead. I’m low-man-on-the-totem-pole at 53, with minimal benefits and very little opportunity to build up a retirement fund, since many businesses offer little or no matching incentives on retirement contributions. As a realist, I accept that going back to school would entail getting loans for thousands of dollars that would need to be paid back, and by the time I would finish, I would be just that much older and unhireable. Who will hire a 55- or 56-year-old in a starting position for any kind of decent salary?
Add the reality that I still have to work to pay bills survive, and that I still have teenagers living at home, and it feels as though I have no viable options to improve my situation.
I’ve been a proud, hard-working woman all my adult life.
This certainly isn’t where I expected to find myself at this stage in my life. I recently read a post on Facebook from an old high school friend of mine who just graduated from the police academy. I was so impressed and proud of her. Although I’m not in a position to do something like that, it still inspires me. If nothing else, I can, once again, say, “It’s not over, yet!”
It’s not over yet!
I totally agree with the previous commenter …. it’s not over yet … at least I still have my blog, my readers and a budding freelance career. If nothing else, I will continue to dedicate my time to being a voice for midlife women and advocate for change in the women’s workplace which is more than a lot of these women have. I only hope that one day women will be recognized for their value in all things they do either by nature or by virtue.
If we were to omit all women from society … society would not exist … sorry guys you need us at any age, you know it and we’re worth a hell of a lot more than your simple little minds can fathom … because without women you would not exist nor would you be the man you ascribe to be. How’s that for value? – Carla Rexroth, 54, Mother, Wife, Family Caregiver, College Grad, Freelance Writer, Blogger and all around awesome person … It’s not over yet!
Have you experienced ageism in the workplace? Are you having trouble finding employers who pay a living wage to women over 50? Please tell me your story in the comments below.
See you in the comments,