Old workers struggle with unemployment

Some movies just stay with you. For me, “The Intern,” which was released last fall is one. The film, which will be coming out on DVD on Dec. 29th is about a millennial CEO/entrepreneur played by Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway, and her start-up’s 70-year-old intern Ben Whittaker portrayed by Robert DeNiro.

DeNiro was brilliant as a former company executive who becomes an intern to fill the void left by retirement and becoming a widower, but some critics panned the inspiring movie. Even the negative reviews might express our societal disconnect regarding different generational groups working together.

The economic downturn in late 2007 created both unemployment and ongoing economic uncertainty. In recent months, unemployment statistics indicate that things are almost back to normal. Yet these statistics don’t adequately count the prime-age workers (25-54) who have given up, along with the Boomers (51-69) or Silent generation individuals (70-87) who want to find a productive place in the workforce. Nor do they reflect the underemployed who deserve better.

This can create an unspoken tension between both the Millennials (18-34) and Gen Xers (35-50) in regards to over-50 workers who seemingly refuse to retire. In fairness, folks rarely identify with all the attributes of any generational group. For instance, workplace Millennials, who typically express their opinion readily can be at odds with “Xers (who) tend to believe people need to ‘pay their dues’ before voicing opinions,” writes Mira Zaslove in a 2015 Quora commentary.

Sadly, younger employees have never experienced a sense of stability in the job market, while seasoned workers are frustrated by their fear of being pushed aside or forced into early retirement by a more youthful prospect. Besides, most couldn’t retire if they wanted to.

A volatile stock market, lack of savings or pension plans, reduced home equity and longer life spans force folks into staying on the job. According to an April 15 article on www.forbes.com by Laura Shin, “The median net worth among households near retirement (ages 55 to 64) show that only about a quarter can expect an adequate cash income stream from their retirement savings.”

DeNiro’s character didn’t require additional income to avoid poverty like some seniors face. Instead he desired an outlet for his talents. The Urban Institute reports that long-term employees are less likely to lose their jobs due to seniority, “But when laid off, seniors take much longer to become reemployed. And once they find a job, it usually pays much less than their previous position.”

This subtle unspoken discrimination was birthed in the dark days of recession. Employers can’t afford to hand over a coveted vacancy to an aging candidate who they worry might not be tech savvy, could possibly increase their health insurance cost, or whose experience might mandate a higher salary.

Older unemployed individuals aren’t giving up. Some are finding part-time or consulting opportunities, while others are opening small businesses. There are also senior interns like Ben Whittaker, or maybe that’s only in Hollywood?

Yet no matter how old you are, why not rent, “The Intern” when it’s released? In the end, as a productive workforce, it’s important that we find ways to embrace, not fear each other, regardless of age.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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