Thursday, August 7, 2008

Age Descrimination in Our Society

This morning I was reading a column by Ronni Bennett on the Time Goes By website and it triggered a lot of similar memories regarding ageism. I’m very happy and content with my life , but it took a while to reach where I am now. After my husband and I separated, I went back into the work force, but I was over fifty, computers were just beginning to find their way into the working environment and at that time I was certain if I touched the keyboard it would blow up. I had been a teacher for years, but I was really disappointed in what was just beginning to happen in the education system and decided that was not where I wanted to go. My oldest daughter had won a scholarship to Whitman College in Washington, but I still had three of the children with me and I needed to make a decent salary.

We ended up back in Texas and after my youngest son taught me the basics in computers, I finally got a job in the public relations department of a telecommunications company in Dallas. I became a Special Projects Coordinator and I loved my job. When a chance came to move up a little higher in the department and work for a man that I truly admired and had worked with some during the time I had been there, I was excited and put in my application. I was pretty stunned, as was everyone else in the department, when he gave the job to a twenty something girl whose only reputation in the department was one of a troublemaker. I stayed with my original job, but some of the fun was gone and besides, I had to pick up the pieces that the twenty something gal kept dropping along the way.

A year later I moved to Oregon to be close to my youngest daughter who was going through a difficult time and I ended up working as the assistant to the President of a Japanese company, Komatsu. They were building a $450 million dollar facility in the Portland area and it was, without a doubt the best and most exciting job I’d ever had. But as luck would have it, three years later there was a real financial crunch going on in Japan and they had to shut down the entire facility. By that time I was nearly sixty-six and decided it was time to throw in the towel and retire. So, I did and went to Mexico for a year. I had not intentions of staying forever, just wanted to have time to see and do some things I had wanted to do for a long time.

When I returned to the states I decided to settle in Texas to be near my oldest son and I was rested, feeling great and decided to go back to work as Social Security and my small pension from Komatsu really wasn’t sufficient to live on very comfortably. I applied for and got a position at a university near Dallas. It was in a new department and the professor I was to work for had wanted a student assistant, but she was told that she needed someone with experience to set up all the programs for a new department – so, I got the job and did just that. Two days before my six month evaluating period was over she informed me that she really would prefer a student assistant. I was out and because of her timing; I was unable to get unemployment. I returned to Oregon a month later.

Back in Portland, I applied for a job I saw in the paper. I was interviewed by four people and three days later they offered me the job. A couple of days after that they asked me to go to the personnel department to complete all my paper work. They can’t ask you for your age on their application, but then there is the government form where you do have to put down your age. A day later I was asked to read and sign the employee manual and return it to my boss. The main statement of the manual was that you could be let go during the first month of employment without being given a specific reason. I got that strange prickly sensation at the back of my neck and sure enough when I received my first pay check at the end of two weeks, I was told that they felt they needed someone else to fill the position – no reason given even though I did push for some kind of explanation. I was out and the time had come to accept the fact that I was not going to be able to find another job.

When you’re healthy, your brain functions quite well and you’re capable of multi-tasking, when you have enthusiasm and excitement about taking on new tasks it’s pretty devastating to realize that you truly are, over the hill, like it or not. Well, all of that was eight years ago and I really am “over the hill” now, but I’ve adjusted to the idea, I’m happy, I stay busy, the mind truly does still function amazingly well and except for the knees, so does the body. But age discrimination in the work force is a sad reality and is surely a black mark against our “youth craving” society as a whole.


Judy said...

Hi Sylvia, I know you are right about this. I just watched a friend of mine that is still employed in the office I retired from get the shaft. He was much more qualified for the job and had asked me if he could use me as a reference. They never even called me! I have known and worked with him for years and knew he was highly qualified for the position but they gave it to a young girl just like you said. I am sure he will be picking up the pieces she drops, also.

Rain said...

Most of the people I know, who are in the old category, started their own businesses to stay employed. It is unfortunate that it seems elders are not respected in employment. It makes no sense but what does these days?