Many Americans are working longer as the recession has taken a bite out of their retirement plans. For those who lose their jobs in their 40s and 50s, it can be a really scary time as employers often look to hire younger and cheaper. The fear is that older workers could mean more expense, not only in salaries but health care costs and hours lost due to illness or diminishing abilities.
According to a new report from the AARP, black workers between ages 45 and 74 are the hardest hit among older American workers.
The federal unemployment rate for January showed that African-Americans in that age group had a jobless rate of 9.9 percent, compared with 6.1 percent for white Americans of the same age. For African-Americans, overall, the unemployment rate last month was 13.8 percent compared to an overall rate of 7.9 percent.
The AARP survey, Multicultural Work and Career Study, was conducted in November and December and included people 45-74 who were either employed or actively looking for work.
“For many years, older African-Americans have faced an extremely difficult job market,” Edna Kane-Williams, AARP vice president for multicultural engagement, said in a news release announcing the research.
“Others have confronted major problems as well, but the situation has been — and continues to be — especially acute for diverse communities.”
The report said that 39 percent of those surveyed said they believed it was “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that they will lose their job or have to give up working for themselves in the next year. The self-employed cited a slowdown in business, the weak economy or health issues as reasons they are likely to close their businesses. Another 25 percent said they anticipated they may need to leave their jobs to care for an adult family member sometime in the next five years.
Marialice Williams knows all too well the pain of being out of work.
Williams, a lawyer, had a long run of success working for local government, private firms and contractors, until she suddenly hit the wall with a new administration.
Williams was out of permanent work for three years, reduced to taking on all kinds of temp jobs, including some paralegal work.
“From September 2008 until September 2011, I applied for 187 jobs. I applied for most online. It was a horrifying process. The ageism and the racism inherent in the process were astounding. I only had two or three interviews during that entire period of time. I knew that each time I had to put my date of birth, graduation from law school, or other relevant dates that I would never get an interview,” Williams said.
“Discrimination was easier to prove prior to the technological developments that provide access to your private information. All anyone has to do is ‘Google’ me and they will know immediately how old I am and what color I am. But the statistics prove my point – discrimination against the elderly and people of color still exists.”
Now in her 60s, Williams is executive director of the Laurie Mitchell Empowerment and Career Center in Northern Virginia, an organization that helps people with mental health issues find increased opportunities for socialization and potential employment in the competitive marketplace.
Williams said that experienced workers also need to beware of giving away too much information during an interview that might work to their disadvantage, rather than show how much they can contribute to the company.
“At one not-for-profit, I noticed after the first question was asked about affordable housing renovation, that the board and staff members present were taking copious notes. By the third question, I asked why everyone was taking such copious notes. The answer was that they needed questions for the next candidate – a 30-something, tall white man,” Williams said.
“He got the job and they are doing the same number of renovations annually that they always have. They have the nerve to send me progress reports. I also told them that they owed me a consulting fee for my interview.”
In another interview, Williams said, “I described my style of management as ‘participatorial.’ The board and staff interviewing me had no idea what I was talking about. They didn’t know that you can’t make effective change without the input and buy-in of staff. This organization continues to be ineffective at achieving its mission.”
Some companies lose out on the expertise of experienced workers in an effort to not only save money in salary and benefits, but in training costs. Employers are more deliberate in tight economic times about hiring, because they don’t want someone who will take a job out of financial desperation only to lose them to better opportunities when the economy improves.
The risk is that the ideal person, in need of employment, will take what they can find and not be available by the time the firm is ready to move forward with a candidate.
The AARP is trying to address the problem through Work Reimagined, a social network-based jobs program that connects employers seeking experienced workers with qualified professionals. The site offers job listings, articles, tips and tools to help people navigate the job-hunting scene.
AARP has also joined the Small Business Administration (SBA) to offer resources and advice to encourage older entrepreneurs. In October, AARP and SBA co-hosted a National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day in several cities around the country.
Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”