This is a guest article from Stanley Rippel, an older worker who faced forced retirement because of his old(er) age.
Recently my wife and I attended a benefit function for our local symphony orchestra. During the cocktail reception I overheard someone ask her, “what does your husband do” and she quickly replied, “Oh, he’s been retired since the beginning of the year.”
I was floored when I heard this… retired, not me, I’ll never retire, what was she thinking. Since discretion is always the better part of valor, I figured that the reception was not the place to continue this discussion with my loving wife about my so-called “retirement.”
But… on the ride home from the reception, I asked her what she meant telling people I was retired. And in no uncertain terms, she let me know I was retired. “Look bubba,” she said, “you are retired whether you want to admit it or not. You’ve been out of work for the past ten months and can’t find a job because of your age.”
Well, she had a point. I am 73 years old and had sent out over 900 resumes since the beginning of the year to no avail. But retired… impossible, as I like to say I’m just between gigs. I have too much experience, worked in too many industries, and have accomplished too much, not to be an attractive find in the job market.
With a stellar pedigree including my time in the Air Force as a photojournalist during Vietnam, professional photographer, advertising executive during the Golden Age of Advertising, technology mavin in the middle of the Dot-Com Boom and conversely the Dot-Com Bust, marketing and branding strategist in 28 different industries, and senior living executive for over 25+ years, there was no reason why I couldn’t easily find a job… or so I thought.
Then reality set in… since the advent of the Pandemic in 2020 everything has radically changed. It seems like everything that was up is now down and everything that is down is now up. And for a final measure to really shake things up, they took the box, turned it at a 45-degree angle, and then slammed it up against a wall. Notwithstanding the fact that Covid-19 has had a dramatic economic impact on our labor force since 2020.
And from my perspective, I was sitting smack dab in the middle of ground zero. For several years, prior to the COVID debacle, I had been selling electronic locks and access control hardware into senior living communities. Everything was going smoothly until COVID-19 hit and we were not allowed to go into any senior living communities due to health and safety issues.
This was further compounded by supply chain issues where new construction ground to a virtual halt due to massive increases in building material costs, the readjustment of priorities and budgets across all senior living communities where scheduled projects were put on hold indefinitely, and computer chip shortages which increased product lead times to over a year.
Sales opportunities became non-existent, and it did not appear that things would normalize for at least another year. Unfortunately, my company could not afford to keep me on the payroll past the end of 2021. It wasn’t anything personal it was just business.
A New Kind of Job Hunt
Having been through this before, I immediately applied for unemployment at the beginning of 2022. This provided me with a six-month cushion while I embarked on my quest for a new job. I figured this hiatus would be short lived as I would easily find a new position. Little did I imagine that days would turn into weeks and weeks into months.
It wasn’t the money; it was the principle of the situation. I was becoming extremely bored as there were only so many pro-bono projects where I could lend my expertise.
Considering that every news outlet was touting that job openings were increasing each day and companies were having trouble finding qualified workers, I couldn’t understand why I was having a problem finding gainful employment. Realizing the paradoxical nature of this situation, as a consummate researcher I had to dig deeper to understand the root cause of my dilemma.
When you consider that we are still in the period that has been designated at The Great Resignation or the Great Reshuffle, where employees are leaving their jobs en masse, this trend has had a tremendous impact on business. In 2021 alone, over 47 million workers quit their jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most resignations on record.
Couple this with the fact that companies are experiencing an increasing amount of Quiet Quitting, whereby employees are only doing the minimal amount of work to stay employed, I was really having trouble understanding why I was not being considered for any positions. So, I decided to dig deeper.
With the understanding that age discrimination is illegal, unfortunately this practice is running rampant across the majority of companies. As a recent article by AARP points out, unemployed older adults are continuing to face ageism in the job market. And this is nothing new… as early as 2018, reports were beginning to surface that employers considered that 64 was too old to get a job. The bottom line is that older workers are continuing to be forced out of the workforce.
Additionally the current economic situation is having a deleterious impact on seniors aged 65+ according to the National Council on Aging. According to their recent study, “over 15 million adults (or roughly 1 in 3) aged 65+ have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level.”
Younger Workers are Preferred
Ageism affects seniors in many ways, employment is but one way. Being pragmatic, companies are looking for younger more inexperienced workers who either have lower salary expectations or who they can pay less money. With the inability of seniors to find suitable employment to supplement their retirement income or Social Security, they will continue to face increasing economic challenges.
While my research so far was enlightening, it only confirmed what I already knew. So, my next step was to factor in the current economic situation and self-imposed oil crisis. Times of economic downturn and recession are cyclical. If you look at history since WWII, there have been 13 economic recessions. In the past 50 years, we have had an economic downturn every 5 to 10 years:
- November 1973 to March 1975: The Oil Embargo
- January to July 1980: Second Energy Crisis and Inflation Recession
- July 1981 to November 1982: Double Dip Recession
- July 1990 to March 1991: S&L Crisis and Gulf War Recession
- March to November 2001: The Dot-Com Crash and 9/11
- December 2007 to June 2009: The Great Recession
- February-April 2020: The COVID-19 Recession
And sadly it appears that we are currently entering another period of recession, as there has been a fall in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for at least two consecutive quarters. As a result, business are reacting by contemplating additional layoffs, further impacting the job prospects for people 65+.
With that said, history shows that our economy is extremely resilient and always bounces back, no matter how deep the economic downturn.
But the obvious question remains, how long will it take for the economy to return to some semblance of normal. Being realistic, if it takes another three years for the economy to return to normal, I will be 76-years-old and my prospects of finding a job will be almost nil.
Nothing revealing here, so I dug in even further to see if I was doing anything wrong with respect to my resume or job application submissions. Researching the current trend in resume writing, I didn’t learn anything new. What they continue to recommend for older workers is to only show 15 years of work experience on their resume.
Additionally, they counsel job applicants not to put any reference to a year on their resume as it would provide an indication of their age. I really found this hard to swallow as it was an indictment on the age discrimination that was taking place across the country.
Obviously, I would be of no value to anyone if I didn’t have an accumulation of experience. From a hiring standpoint, a persons’ worth in the job market is based on; their ability to meet and exceed the job requirements, what they can bring to the table to add to the company’s overall profitability and return on investment (basically new ideas), and whether or not they are willing to put in the hours necessary to achieve the desired result.
The only way I know how to be successful is to work harder and longer than anyone else. I always knew that I wasn’t always the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I would always be successful because I was willing to work harder and smarter that everyone else – unlike the quiet quitters that are permeating companies today.
Fear of Job Loss
Which brings to mind a humorous sidebar. I was on the Board of Directors for our local area Advertising League. I was running late for one of our monthly meetings and when I arrived, the only seat available was in the front of the room at a table of 11 coeds that were majoring in advertising at a local women’s college. Oh well, it was the luck of the draw (that taught me to never, ever be late for an Ad League meeting again.)
During the course of the luncheon, one of the students asked me what I attributed my success in the advertising field. Without blinking I responded that any success I derived in my current advertising profession was due to the fact that I lived in fear of losing my job every day. I further stated that in the advertising field we unfortunately ate our own and if you were not willing to put in the long hours, 7 days a week, you would be wildly unsuccessful, and your advertising career would be short-lived.
And I guess that this fear of losing my job every day has guided me throughout my career. As I was growing up my father drilled into me the importance of putting in the necessary effort and preparation to be successful… in his mind being a “winner.” While in school I participated in every sport imaginable, and as a parting shot before I left home for each game, my father would tell me not to come home if we lost. There were no participation certificates when I grew up, you were either a winner or a loser in his mind. Bottom line, in a twisted sort of way I can thank my father for motivating me to be successful.
So, what is the net of my research… first and foremost ageism is a continual problem that will continue to plague older workers and job seekers, and this trend does not appear that it will change in the short term. The current economic situation will be with us for the next couple of years which will directly impact the job prospects of seniors. There is probably nothing I can do with respect to job applications or my resume to enhance my chances of finding gainful employment.
The one bright spot is the recent study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows, “the labor force is expected to increase by 8.9 million, or 5.5 percent, from 2020 to 2030. The labor force of people ages 16 to 24 is projected to shrink by 7.5 percent from 2020 to 2030. Among people aged 75 years and older, the labor force is expected to grow by 96.5 percent over the next decade.”
The only logical explanation for this growth in the labor force of older workers is that at some point, companies will wake up and see that their current strategy of cutting costs by hiring less experienced workers at a lower cost is not working. Additionally, these same companies will realize that the quiet quitters they have on their payroll will have to go as their lack of effort is directly eroding the profitability of these same companies.
We are entering some extraordinary and complicated times from the business standpoint; inflation (recession), supply chain issues, the ability (or willingness) to attract qualified workers, and the ability to attract a workforce that is willing to put in the extraordinary effort necessary to help these companies weather the current economic storm and increase competitive advantage.
Bottom line, history continues to prove that those companies that make the sacrifices and increase investment, when their competitors cut costs and their workforce, increase market share exponentially when the market returns to normal. Hopefully, companies will recognize, sooner rather than later, that they will need to hire those people with the experience that has been gained from weathering numerous economic downturns.
With respect to me, I’ve been through this countless times before and I’m not about to do anything different. I know that ageism is a serious factor, but I feel confident that at some point companies will realize that they need someone with my experience and skill set to get them out of the hole they continue to dig for themselves.
Until then I have enough pro-bono work to keep me busy and I get an occasional photo assignment that keeps me in beer and peanuts. My goal is to live to be 100 and taking this into consideration, I have at least two new jobs left in me!