Enjoy Your Youth, Getting Old Just Got Worse

April Peveteaux

older job applicant discriminationWal-Mart greeters aside, when is the last time you saw a big box retailer employee that appeared to have been old enough to remember John F. Kennedy's assassination? There may be a reason for the younger employee pool at such stores as Home Depot, Kroger, and Target, as the job application asks for a birth date. And one job-searcher says she's been discriminated against in favor of younger applicants at these stores.

In fact, Ruth Lyons tested her theory by lying about her birth date, and wouldn't you know it -- she finally got the interview. By shaving 18 years off of her age, the 59-year-old got a phone call. But the fact that she even was asked for a birth date is suspect when age discrimination is illegal. For good reason, since in this current job climate, the over-55 crowd is having the most difficult time landing a job out of any population. Which is so depressing I don't even want to think about it. And neither do you.

If the American Dream goes as it should, once you hit 50, you're coasting. You've established yourself in your career, you're at the top of your game, and you're planning for your eventual retirement. Applying to be a checker at Target probably wasn't in your plan. But in the real world, it very well could be, thanks to the death of a spouse, divorce, or this horrible job market.

Even with these explanations, applying for a low-wage job at middle age still can feel like a huge failure. And the person reviewing your application could easily gravitate towards the up-and-coming 20-year-old candidate. Hiring an upstart versus someone with a "down on his luck" perception just feels better. It's not overt discrimination because it's a gut feeling, rather than a statement that a younger candidate can do the job better simply because of the age difference. It's really hiring the young guy by virtue of being less depressing.

As the HuffPo article states, it's very subtle. The person doing the hiring may believe the younger person is more qualified, and that's the reason you'll be given as to why your 50+ self didn't get the gig that you are most likely over-qualified to perform. But in reality, they'd much rather picture you running the home office or in a position of authority. The way things should be.

I know I'd be taken aback if I had to hire someone to run the cash register and the applicant was my mother's age, or even younger. Ageism is one of the areas of discrimination that is rarely talked about, and therefore most acceptable. But I would hope I would be able to look beyond the birth date, and check any preconceived notions at the door. After all, someday that middle-aged job applicant could be me.

Do you think ageism is a problem in the work force?


Image via Patrick Hoesly/Flickr

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