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The Gray Elephant in the Room

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I haven't worked since February of this year. Through no fault of my own, I had no choice but to quit my last job. On my second day, I was on my way to work when bad weather caused me to have a car accident. That morning, I was left with a totaled car and minor injuries. This was the last thing I needed. I had moved to South Dakota at the urging of my best friend. Prior to living there, I lived in Colorado. I found work almost immediately -- not the line of work I usually do and part-time with no benefits. I worked for several months. As the project neared completion and no new bids awarded to the company, it was clear we all were facing layoffs. Knowing this, I immediately began sending out my résumé. After a tremendous effort, I received one call for an interview.

I had a favorable interview. The end result, I wasn't selected for the position. I was surprised I wasn't offered the position. I clearly had the experience to perform the duties required of the position. I did something I had never done before. I reached out and contacted the HR recruiter. I was looking for a specific reason why I wasn't selected. What I heard from the HR recruiter a lot of walking around my questions offering no answers. I thanked him for his time and moved on.

We often hear about employers looking for people who are a "good fit" for the company. This is a broad statement which can take on many meanings. I seriously began to question whether I am no longer a "good fit" because of my age.

I decided to return to my home town, Las Vegas, Nev. I knew the economy was terrible. I heard the horror stories from many of my friends saying how difficult it would be to find a job in Las Vegas. At this point, I had no other choice but to try to find work.

Over the next four months, I applied for more than 200 positions. I landed three interviews. I went to each interview prepared to answer and ask questions. When I arrived for my interviews, I noticed most of the staff appeared younger, between the ages of 25 and 35. At each interview, the person or persons I interviewed with were the ages of my adult children. In some cases, it was as if we were speaking different languages. Each time, I tried to not be discouraged. I felt like I was on the defensive because of my age and had to prove my knowledge, skills and abilities. I previously worked for some high-profile companies. Most people know how difficult it is to land positions with these companies.

On my daily outings to the state unemployment agency, I had conversations with women who were slightly younger or closer to my age. I learned some were having the same experience as me in my job search. Other women had no real work experience except for a job here or there working in food service or retail. Sadly, a few were homeless.

I listened to their stories and compared them to mine. I found a common denominator between me and these women. Most of us divorced later in life and didn't remarry. Some of us chose to stay home and raise our families and never worked outside the home. A few widowed. Some, like me, were wives of military members. We had very few career choices due to our husbands' transfers.

I believe we are a forgotten group of workers who do not fall into any of the special interest groups except for displaced homemaker. I learned there are very few resources available to women who fall into this category. I have gaps in my employment history. I managed to work at a company for 14 years until divorce happened. Since I divorced, it has been a never-ending merry-go-round of trying to find work. I am sure this is being held against me by some employers I have interviewed with.

I also question whether the EEOC information is viewed separately from the job application. While the option is there to not "self-identify", one can easily determine my age by looking at my résumé. My résumé goes back several years. Many employers ask and we must "show" dates of employment. If you look at my résumé going back 10 years, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out my age.

Recently, Luke Russert, a reporter for NBC, questioned Nancy Pelosi's ability to effectively do her job at her age. Ms. Pelosi quickly told Russert she was "offended" by his remark. While Ms. Pelosi appeared gracious, I was not pleased by Russert's remark.

Age discrimination is a huge problem in this country. It is also very difficult to prove. I have researched the federal government's Department of Labor website. Most of the data I found shows unemployment in my age group, lumping men and women together in one group. I haven't been able to find statistics for women in the age class of 46-54 who are not working, classified as displaced homemakers.

I asked myself after I saw the exchange between Russert and Pelosi: Do young people view us as old and not competitive in the workplace? How does our age have anything to do with whether we can effectively do our job? Even more compelling, my understanding is Luke Russert's mother is still working and she is in her 60s.

To date, I still haven't found employment. I have a dear friend who has offered to share his home with me. Recently, I re-enrolled in college. I hope this will have a positive effect on my job search.

I do wonder if the pink elephant in the room is actually a gray elephant.