I was volunteering at a northern Virginia lunch-cum-venting session for furloughed federal employees, on the same afternoon news broke that President Trump had bowed to pressure and would end the 35-day government shutdown.
Some 100 furloughed employees, contractors and their families and friends filled the church’s community room to feast on food donated by local restaurants and neighbors while the chief of staff to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), sympathetically listened to their stories. “This event is the reason I got up and showered this morning,” a clearly shaken furloughed employee said as I greeted her.
The anger, fear and frustration were palpable. I was scared and angry for them —and for myself. As of Feb. 3, I will have been out of work, without the prospect of back pay, for six months. That’s 184 days, with no guaranteed end in sight. The job that brought me to Washington, D.C., in the spring of 2017 was abruptly eliminated late last summer, and despite dozens of job applications and about 20 networking meetings and job interviews since then, I’m still in the hunt.
Heartbreak: Unemployed in Her 50s
I’m not a federal employee. I’m a woman in my 50s.
It was a curious sensation to help plan and host the event for furloughed federal workers while my own employment uncertainty continues to play out.
I’m a professional with two graduate degrees from top universities and a rich and varied career. I love living in Washington and loved my senior-level job with a small, but recognized, not-for-profit professional association. It was triply satisfying that I had defied the odds and remade myself in the latter part of my working life. That was, until the organization that employed me ruptured and eliminated its 10 jobs over the course of a year before closing up shop 11 days ago.
As the economy began its slow recovery from the Great Recession, the headlines were encouraging for many workers, except for those in one of the demographics I’m in. “Over 50, Female and Jobless Even as Others Return to Work,” The New York Times warned. “Reaching the age when age is a liability — especially for women,” The Washington Post opined a few months later.
The Wrenching ProPublica Report
Then the more recent gut punches: The nonprofit news organization ProPublica published an investigation based on data it analyzed with the Urban Institute headlined, “If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t Be Yours.” Peppered with wrenching personal anecdotes, the analysis showed that half of older U.S. workers are pushed out of jobs before they choose to retire and that the financial damage they suffer is often irreversible.
It followed a recent AARP study that found 61 percent of adults over 45 either had seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace; older women joined African-Americans, Hispanics and the already unemployed saying they believed they were more likely to be subject to discrimination.
Trying to Remain Hopeful
Despite the discouraging news, I remain hopeful. With energy, confidence in my skills and a continuing desire and need to work, what choice do I have?
And amid those earlier grim headlines are a few uplifting new ones: “The suddenly hot job market for workers over 50,” along with the much-shared “I Am (an Older) Woman, Hear Me Roar,” about improving career fortunes for women over 60, at least at the uppermost tiers of politics, acting and media.
But beyond connecting with an employer whose commitment to complying with the anti-age discrimination laws goes beyond the disclaimers at the bottom of its job postings, what’s the remedy for older people who want or need to work?
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), last year introduced the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, which would override a 2009 Supreme Court decision that makes it next-to-impossible for many workers to demonstrate age discrimination. The bill secured bipartisan support and Casey’s office has said he plans to re-introduce it during this Congress. A companion House bill introduced last spring by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) was blocked by 75-year-old Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), outgoing chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, who Scott has just replaced in the new Congress.
Now that the government shutdown is over, at least temporarily, I hope those no-longer-furloughed feds and their families, friends and supporters will flex the political muscle many discovered in their outrage and support those who continue in employment and financial uncertainty.
Next Avenue Editors Also Recommend:
- Older Job Hunters: Powerfully Good News
- Unemployed, 55, and Faking Normal
- Ways to Cope When You Are Out of Work
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