Benjamin Widrevitz has a PhD in electrical engineering. After 30 years at Bell Laboratories, he was laid off in 2005 at age 55. Despite being “technologically up to date and very productive,” he hasn’t found a similar job since.
His son, on the other hand, found work almost immediately after graduating from engineering school. “I’m grateful for that,” says the elder Widrevitz. “But the fact is I certainly know more than he does. I would be more productive from day one. But all I get are silences from job applications -- or evasions.” While he now works as a part-time physics instructor at a local college, the pay is low and there is no security.
Older Workers and Long-term Unemployment
Widrevitz’ story is not unique. According to government data, older job seekers have an especially difficult time finding work. As of October 2010, job seekers 55 and older were unemployed an average of 44 weeks versus 37 weeks for job seekers between the ages of 25 and 54.
What if your child finds a job, and you can’t? “It can be terribly depressing,” admits Linda Wiener, expert on Monster's Age Issues forum and a workforce consultant specializing in issues related to midlife and older job seekers. “People ask what they’ve done wrong, why they’re not competitive. It’s not that they can’t do the job; it’s an actuarial issue.”
Wiener says that because healthcare costs are higher for workers 55 and over -- and “go through the roof” after 60 -- companies have a financial incentive to get rid of older employees. “Younger people get jobs, because they’re not as work-savvy. They work more hours, and their benefits can be 50 percent less.”
Older workers losing jobs that their children get is “the elephant in the room,” says Wiener. “And it’s a pretty big elephant.”
Hiring Your Parents
According to Widrevitz, some employers avoid hiring older workers, because younger people find it difficult employing men and women old enough to be their parents. “I have no solution for that,” he says. “It’s human nature to write off older people -- I did it when I was 20. But I’m stuck in it.”
It’s especially frustrating when adult children are offered entry-level positions their parents can’t get. “I’d like to be offered an entry-level job where I can prove myself, even at a lower salary,” Widrevitz says. “It’s not what my son is doing -- it’s what he is: Younger. I don’t think my behavior needs changing. I won’t dye my hair, get a facelift or keep my age off my resume. That’s masking behavior. It’s not right, and I don’t think it works.”
He is also skeptical of efforts to try to change society’s age bias. “Groups like AARP try to show we’re computer-literate," he says. "I’m more than that; I design computers.”
Turnover and Relocation
Richard Bayer, CEO of outplacement firm the Five O’Clock Club, says that members are often discouraged when their children find work and they don’t, but they shouldn’t be. “The average American stays in a job only four years,” Bayer says. “You and your kid will take turns passing each other. Not working is no reflection on you. Reductions in force, departments eliminated, companies going in new directions -- those reasons have nothing to do with how you performed on the job.”
Wiener suggests older job seekers may have to relocate to regions where markets are strong. Another tactic: Re-careering. “Think about which parts of your job jazz you,” she recommends. “Ask yourself where you can overlay those skills onto a new career. Re-careering may not be fair, and you probably won’t have wage equity with your old job, but you may find work with benefits and a pension.”
Kids and Networking
Should you use your own child in the professional networking process? “That’s problematic,” Bayer says. “Most people feel uncomfortable doing that. Dropping your kid’s name is different from him or her using yours.”
However, Wiener says, it is smart to use your son or daughter as a resource. “Ask how his interview went,” she advises. “Find out what her employer is looking for in terms of skill sets, what kind of people the company is hiring. What do they look like? How do they act? If your child is just out of college, ask who’s recruiting on campus. They may be hiring other people, too.”