Women suffer from age discrimination in their forties, ten years younger than
Ironically, such women are the first cohorts to become higher-level
professionals in large numbers as they get older.
Two years ago I got a distressing email from a friend who had learned computer skills in her fifties to start a second career. She couldn't find a job.
"I was interviewed only twice. Friends say my age is a main factor. What 36-year-old director of anything wants an assistant who is as old as her own mother? This has been truly depressing. Every application is an act of hope but I have been deflated so often, my pride bruised and my student loan still looms. I had not anticipated this problem. That was naive...."
She's still looking.
Many people have no idea how likely they are to lose out because of age -- which means they blame themselves rather than American middle ageism.
Among the unemployed over 45, half have been out of work "long term" -- more than six months. After 54, it gets worse. In February 2010, only 23.3 percent of youths had been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer compared with 39.4 percent of "older" workers.
People who lose jobs at midlife typically earn much less afterward. Boomers -- so often touted as privileged -- have a ten percent poverty rate between the ages of 40 and 50, when they should be approximating their peak wage.
People who are long unemployed can lose homes. Sex life ends. Families disintegrate. Parents fear becoming dependent on adult offspring in old age. Some midlife adults move in with their elderly parents.
Health suffers. Of the 46 million people without health insurance, almost a fifth are Boomers between the ages of 45 and 64. They can't afford insurance. Many postpone tests and medical care. Not all make it to Medicare. Between the ages of 55 and 64, nearly 11 percent die, more than any other uninsured age group (PDF). Women and women between the ages of 45 and 54 have a rising suicide rate (PDF).
None of this is new. I call this pattern "middle ageism," because, at 40 and up, the victims should have long productive lives ahead. "Encore careers," indeed.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967) has not worked as a deterrent to illegal behavior. Its enforcement arm, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), finds for plaintiffs only three to four percent of the time. It sues on behalf of a worker even less, in under .005 percent of cases, according to Laurie Mcann of AARP. So meager a number of firings "for cause" suggests that it is "engaged in discovering where discrimination does not exist rather than where it does," in the words of Raymond Gregory, a lawyer and expert on these issues. Gregory's book, Age Discrimination in the Workplace: Old at a Young Age, explains in detail how the system turned into what it is today.