Reorg: one of the dirtiest words in corporate lingo. Reorg implies streamlining, something good for everyone but in reality it leaves workers over the age of 50 out in the cold and jobless -- just ask most of my friends. Many boomers are ill-equipped in the era of social media to re-career or find comparable employment -- ever again. It's like a hard drive failure without back-up: it's either happened to you or it will.
In a 2013 AARP study, nearly two in three workers said they had seen or experienced discrimination based on age. The secret knell among Human Resources (there's an oxymoron) departments is, "Find a way to get rid of staff over age 50." Some HR teams are being incentivized to do so. It's an epidemic akin to outsourcing call centers to India.
Frequently, employers oust their older workers with the alternative to the reorg: the negative job review or unfavorable "write-up." That's where someone with years of consistent high performance suddenly doesn't measure up. The person is then put on "probation." Another job death sentence.
The reorg and write up have both occurred to people I know. At one major company, management has "released" everyone over 50, except for one, the oldest worker in the department. According to the way current laws are structured, as long as she's still employed there, her dozen or so former co-workers do not have grounds for an age discrimination suit. Meanwhile, she's earning smaller raises and bonuses than her younger coworkers and lives with a heavy dose of survivor's guilt.
The 60's generation still wants to change the world. Instead, the world is changing them through downsize, restructure, or bogus negative annual reviews that justify termination without severance pay. Friends are finding themselves unemployed, looking for jobs in a youth culture, without a prayer or a nose ring to fit in or get hired.
For the generation who grew up with the slogan, "Never trust anyone over 30," the new catch phrase they are encountering is, "Don't hire anyone over 50." Sure, government programs can help fund education and re-training. Friends have dutifully studied and reapplied skills, received advanced degrees, even in such in-demand fields as web analytics. And though they may get job interviews, few lead to positions when compared to newly minted, fresh faced Millennials who are cheaper to hire and don't need time off to escort a parent, spouse or child to the doctor.
For parents of baby boomers, the over 50 years were peak earning years, affording them the opportunity to save for retirement. My generation experienced downward mobility in our 30's, unable to buy homes as nice as the one's we grew up in (if we could afford to buy a home at all.) Now, we are living off our savings (if we have any) earmarked for our golden years. With congress planning on postponing the age one can access Social Security from the current age of 62 to 66, how will the permanently unemployable ever get there?
What Can Be Done?
Support the bipartisan Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA). A Supreme Court ruling has now made it harder for workers to prove age discrimination than it is to prove discrimination based on race, religion or gender. Passing this bill is crucial in assuring all older Americans are treated fairly on the job.
POWADA would restore the legal standards that prevailed before the unfair Supreme Court decision, and help older workers remain in or reenter the workplace, with greater protection against the barriers of age discrimination.
Congress can create/pass tax breaks for companies that hire those OVER 50.
In considering extending unemployment insurance, our lawmakers should hold hearings to get acquainted with the many previously hardworking, diligent, bill paying, honorable Americans who now find themselves unable to compete with younger workers. They're not lazy, as Republicans keep reporting. They're just not old enough to retire yet.
On behalf of the older unemployed, I hope our elected officials will pay attention to the job struggle many of us are undergoing. Otherwise, they may soon join us.
For more by Arlene Schindler on Huffington Post, click here.