Robert Reich recently wrote the following about a former student who told him, "in a quivering voice, she had lost her job. She took it as a personal failure. “I don’t know what to do now. I’ve lost confidence in myself.”
He told her two things. “First, you shouldn’t take it too personally. Everyone’s vulnerable in today’s economy. People are being laid off because companies are cutting costs. Sometimes people lose their jobs not because they’re failing at it but because they can be replaced by someone with less experience who will work for less.”
“I still feel like I failed. I made some stupid decisions,” she said.
“Even if you did fail, that’s okay,” he said. “If someone takes their job seriously they’ll try new things, and sometimes they’ll fail. The real test over time isn’t success or failure. It’s your resilience in bouncing back from failure.”
Reich asked his readers whether they'd lost a job and felt like a failure. He asked how they bounced back.
On Facebook, a reader named Miles Goosens wrote, "I haven't bounced back. I lost my job at a large regional bank in 2008, after 13 years there. I have had three interviews in seven years. HR people say that since I was let go at the beginning of the financial crisis, I must not have been important or good at my job. I've been forced to work retail as my primary job just to keep insurance for my wife and me, but people looking at my resume see the fact that I've taken what I could get just to keep us going as a strike against me rather than a necessary measure. Plus I'm 48 now, so a lot of employers don't want me because of my age. I feel trapped by our non-recovering economy."
He added, "My current retail employer seldom promotes from the sales floor, at least in our region. They prefer business school / management trainee types, and don't reward actual experience with store realities and processes. Lately I have been pursuing high school teaching jobs, and am hopeful that I can find one before the fall of 2016. I can take advantage of my experience and my education, and do something that's far more rewarding personally."
Goosens is an adjunct professor at Motlow College, Middle Tennessee State University as well as working in retail. He's married and lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee. What he said must have struck a nerve in a lot of people, because 193 people replied to his posting. I'm going to put some of them here.
Tony Zito said, "Wow, Miles, that's ridiculous. This is the "deadwood fallacy" reported by Katherine Newman in "Falling From Grace" during the last big recession. It's how people pretend that if they are good, hard-working and skilled, it can't happen to them."
Karen Shaw wrote, "Ageism is rampant even though middle age workers are among the best."
Ari Silvasti said, "I've heard stories like this and my heart goes out to all those who have lost their jobs. It's a form of capital punishment."
Wendy Overom Paymard wrote, "Your story is so very common these days. So sorry to hear of your trials and tribulations. Hold your head high, it's not you, it's the 'system' that has taken over. That can't last forever. As my mother always said: 'The pendulum always swings.'" To which Jeanne Johnsey said, "I've been waiting for the pendulum to swing since 1980."
Brian Lucas commiserated, "I know how it is. I also am in my 40s and work retail. Barely get by in the most expensive area in the US."
Just after Mom passed, I lost my job and then the crash and the never recovering economy. Recruiters tell me that if you are out of the market doing that exact skill for more than 6 months you are suddenly undesirable.
Nancy Levine Lamb added, "Just know that you are not alone. My last contract ended in 2008. I kept that job for 5 years, because I needed the flexibility as a family caregiver. Just after Mom passed, I lost my job and then the crash and the never recovering economy. Recruiters tell me that if you are out of the market doing that exact skill for more than 6 months you are suddenly undesirable. That was when I was just a bit over 50. Now at 58, I have the same story. I have had maybe 10 real interviews in 8 years, and with bad feet, I can't work retail. It sucks. I keep saying I am alive, so there must be a reason."
Deanna Vaughn said, "I was a closer with a title company in 2008 @ age 55 and laid off. Went to college, got my 2 yr degree. Have worked several part time and/or temp retail jobs for the past 4 years just to have an income."
Morris Chernick: "And Obama jumps for joy and proclaims victory because he got you a job. Lol. Until we stop electing presidents that are pawns of big business this will continue."
Linda Marchiony Francis said, "Sorry you're going through this. Employers no longer value experience and maturity. I was just fired for reasons that are beyond me (especially since I was second in sales) and I'm 69. Now I'm free to pursue my passion even though I am doing my best to survive on unemployment and SS. Don't take it personally...you had a good career and you were respected. Remember that! What about consulting? Good luck."
Robert D. Askren write,"It is a scandal that someone can't respect how courageous you are in dealing with the recession."
Leslye LoMenzo: "I was laid off in 2011 due to "workforce reduction" and been working limited-term contract gigs with no or limited benefits ever since -- including at the company that laid me off, where I'm trying to get rehired. It's rough. PS I'm 47, and age issues are always on my mind now."
Sara Hobbs Keen: "Everyone I know including me has been in this situation. We start thinking it was 'me' but when I look back it wasn't meant for me. Now approaching close to retirement age and hoping that I can continue at my current employment until I am able to retire but if not I will with everything in me try to make it through each day one day at a time."
Deborah Dewberry: "I was in the same boat, but had a great work reputation, which even though it appeared my employer jettisoned me for being "unremarkable," gave me testimonials to post on LinkedIn that underscored my strengths. Still was not enough, as my employer was angry when I took him to the EEOC and won an age discrimination settlement and would never recommend me. Your employers should write you a stellar recommendation. Get one."
Cheryl Herries: "I certainly feel your pain. I, along with half of our small company, was laid off early in 2010. Trying to get a job at 62 in a bad economy is fatally discouraging. With a great resume I got one phone interview in 5 years plus tons of insurance companies that want me to start my own insurance business (they will helpfully rent me a shared office space and staff. Such a deal. A new industry is ripping off the unemployed.)"
Carol Columbus Walsh: "In that same situation but I'm now 62. last job I had paid 50K...this was 8 years ago and have not been able to find a job...a few interviews...even dumbed down my resume...nothing..went through my savings, now on early social security...that sucks....if I get a job and make more than 1000 per month, lose health benefits......never thought I'd be at this point at my age."
Vern Garrison: "I do understand believe me, I went thru this myself and I am 10 years older . To be out of it at this age you have got to have mighty tough skin and miss a few meals because the job market just plain suck for older workers. I have tried not to worry about old age as I read somewhere. ...it don't last long."
Jim Anderson: "Ageism is against the law when it comes to employment. But it is never discussed by politicians pundits or the media. It is simply accepted without outrage. Everyday the civil rights act of 1969 is violated by corporations and nobody even discuss the subject."
Pam Evans: "Miles, we've all been there. I still don't make what I did in the 80's w/ a degree from an excellent school. and women over 50 are not valued at all. if anything, they see us as a liability. Very sad."
Steve Harsin: "Miles - similar story, similar outcome. I don't believe I'll ever recover the financial devastation wrought upon my career or my personal finances. But we find new paths, and we develop different goals for the future. It has been a tough pull, but I'm happy."
Nancy Levine Lamb: "When I was 45 and in a job I didn't like, a business owner / sibling said to me that I was already old enough that finding a new job would be hard because of my 'old age'."
Rae Opengart : "Ditto! Lost a full time job at the end of 2007 at the age of 46. I'm 54 now. My resume isn't bad through 2007 but in the years since I've had two part time jobs and a couple years with none. Despite high competency, or because of it, I will never be abIe to get a job that pays what I'm worth. People over 45 or so are screwed. Experience comes with a price companies are unwilling to pay. Then the GOP/TP cuts my food stamps and says I'm lazy! Guess what, asshats? I didn't leave the labor force; the labor force left me!"
David Hillestad: "I was 60 and thrown back into the job hunt maelstrom. I was a business owner and have a Business degree. Today I am a shuttle driver making $10.60."
Gale Cady Williams: "Yes, they tell you not to take it personally, but how can you not? People are human beings, not faceless cogs in a wheel. This is why I am for Bernie Sanders - he is the only politician out there who has any idea of the pain and hopelessness so many of us are living in. It's hard not to be depressed when you remember what you used to have, and the hopes you had for the "someday" that never, ever came."
Karen Breunig: "Absolutely true! If you're in your 50's they won't hire you no matter how great you are! I work at library and the baby boomers streaming in to apply for jobs is continuing since the beginning of the recession! I heard from a small business owner once that she wouldn't hire anyone that had been unemployed for 6 months, she figured they weren't any good! I blasted her good that mistake!"
Linda Wallis: "Age discrimination is rampant and companies use actuaries to play the numbers in a lay off. Your better off to not make a high salary and excel at your career for a giant corporation. Truth is your put out to pasture once you hit 14 years of employment. You cost too much. Age discrimination is the new secret weapon of corporate America."
[dc]T[/dc]here were pages and pages of comments, many of them very, very interesting (and many not). But the bottom line is that people in their late 40's and older who lose their job may have a very hard time getting something comparable.
Back in 2012, it was clearly difficult for people who lost their job after 50 to get employment back. "It’s still extremely difficult for people over 50 to land full-time jobs like the ones they had. Despite recent improvements in the job market, only about a dozen of our 100 interview subjects have been able to return to work full-time with pay and benefits comparable to what they received before being laid off. Most of those who did get jobs wound up in the same field in which they were formerly employed, but not at the same level. Some found and accepted full-time jobs at one-third to one-half less than their previous salaries." But the situation doesn't look as if it has improved all that much for many of those people, although it has been reported that unemployment rates for those over age 50 have fallen.
"Things are finally looking up for older workers. The latest data show the unemployment rate for those over age 55 stands at just 4.1%, compared with 5.7% for the total population and a steep 18.8% for teens. The ranks of the long-term unemployed, which ballooned during the recession as mature workers lost their jobs, are coming down. Age-discrimination charges have fallen for six consecutive years. And now, as the job market lurches back to life, more companies are wooing the silver set with formal retraining programs.
"This is not to say that older workers have it easy. Overall, the long-term unemployment rate remains stubborn high—31.5%. And even though age-discrimination charges have declined they remain at peak pre-recession levels. Meanwhile, critics note that some corporate re-entry programs are not a great deal, paying little or no salary and distracting workers from seeking full-time gainful employment."
A long-term unemployment rate of 31.5% is pretty outrageous, regardless of who is affected. Coupled with age-discrimination, this rate shows a clear problem. We know that most older Americans have not saved enough for retirement. Many lost their jobs, had health problems or family problems and were unable to save a sufficient amount.
One thing is clear: Social Security and Medicare are vital, and the Republican threat to these programs just adds to the problems that already exist. Bernie Sanders is shining a light on America's retirement fiasco. "Social Security [is] the main bulwark against senior poverty. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Social Security provides the majority of cash income for almost two-thirds of its beneficiaries; for about one-third of beneficiaries, the program provides more than 90 percent of income. For one-quarter, Social Security is the only source of income; without it, they'd have nothing."
401(k)'s do not really do anything, particularly in these days of low interest and volatile stock markets, where investment is perilous and non-investment leaves people with low income and potential victims to long-term inflation. More needs to be done by our society, which is notoriously bad in protecting individuals down on their luck.
Miles Goosens has reason to worry. He and those commenting on his post need to vote wisely, and for Bernie Sanders.
Michael T. Hertz