December 2010, Week 2


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Fri, 10 Dec 2010 22:33:13 -0500
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How Unemployment Is Becoming an Age-Old Problem

     Behind the horrible jobless numbers lies another
     story: if you're over 50, you soon wonder whether
     you will ever work again

Naomi Cohn
Friday 10 December 2010

A deal is in the works to continue unemployment
insurance for people who have exhausted 26 weeks of
benefits, but it appears that those who have received
99 weeks - referred to as 99ers - will not be entitled
to any additional weeks. In the meantime, Fed Chairman
Ben Bernanke predicted last week that it would take
four or five years for the unemployment rate to return
to "normal".

I lost my job as lawyer almost two years ago. Recently,
while continuing to search for legal work, I began
writing about unemployment for Examiner.com. I have
received hundreds of emails from unemployed readers all
over the country. The most heart-wrenching are those
from people in their fifties and sixties, who, like me,
are beginning to lose hope of ever working again.

Of the approximately 15 million Americans who are out
of work, around 2.2 million are aged 55 and over, and
almost half of them have been out of work for more than
six months. Positioned between our elderly parents and
our still-minor children, we were, until now, sometimes
called "the sandwich generation". Now, we might better
be called "the new lost generation".

While some have spouses who are working, many others
are slipping into poverty. We continue to fight
tenaciously to find jobs. This note from reader Susan,
who was laid off from her job as a controller, is
fairly typical of the emails I receive:

     "I have sent out hundreds of resumes, spent
     hundreds of hours networking and gone on perhaps
     15 interviews, with two offers that were rescinded
     ... I have offered my services for cleaning homes,
     cleaning stalls, stocking shelves - anything!!! -
     and have been rebuffed. My benefits expired months
     ago, I've used the last of my savings, exhausted
     the equity that remained in my home and am now
     looking for things I can sell."

Many of my readers are accustomed to succeeding at
whatever they attempt. Rob, 57, writes:

     "I am a well-educated high-tech executive with
     over 35 years experience; an A player, a first-
     string starter. I lost my job to outsourcing back
     in September 2008 ... I have been unable to find
     work of any kind over the past 26 months ... I
     have sent out over 350 resumes resulting in a few
     phone interviews and one face to face interview. I
     even dumbed down my resume trying to get $12/hr
     jobs with no luck. My unemployment benefits ran
     out in October 2010 ... I will soon be forced to
     sell my home; my home of over 15 years where I
     raised my kids as a single dad. I don't have any
     idea where I will end up; and at 57, if I will
     ever work in high tech again. In the meantime, I
     cut lawns, do handyman work, and fix computers.
     Actually, I love the work but it is not enough to
     sustain me."

Many of the emails detail the age discrimination my
readers and I face. Susan writes:

     "I have actually seen one company change their ad
     the day after I interviewed, initially setting a
     maximum age and then revising that to a maximum
     number of years' experience."

Much of the discrimination is subtle. A very typical
job posting for an attorney states: "We are looking for
a recent law school graduate to join a team of young
attorneys." My readers and I have become accustomed to
the code words used in job postings - energetic,
bright, motivated, exceptionally computer savvy, able
to multi-task and work in a fast-paced environment - as
one of my readers put it, we "know they mean young and

Summing up our experience, Jeffrey, age 60, writes:

     "After 40 years of successful employment, I find
     myself feeling discarded and almost invisible as
     if experience has no value no matter what
     concessions you make."

I am getting overwhelmed by a sense of loss from these
emails. I watch a TV show with my daughter, and when I
return to my desk, another dozen woeful tales have
popped up in my inbox. "Mom!" my daughter says
anxiously after reading two of them, "stop inviting
them to write to you!" But I can't do that. They, we,
deserve to have our voices heard.


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