December 30, 2013 in Features

Options don’t have to drop off after 50

Wina Sturgeon McClatchy-Tribune
 

Soon after Bill Yeardley (his name has been changed to protect his identity) turned 55, he was fired by the contractor company for which he had worked the past eight years.

His termination wasn’t because of downsizing or the state of the economy, since the owner immediately hired someone else to take Yeardley’s place – a 29-year-old with far less experience.

Yeardley had no pension and didn’t yet have quite enough savings to support his family without cutbacks. Normally, most people in that position would either file an age discrimination lawsuit or frantically – and often fruitlessly – look for another job.

Yeardley didn’t take either option. Instead, he started his own contracting business. He contacted customers with whom he had previously worked and offered them discounts for future work. He asked those who knew of his sterling reputation to recommend him to their friends. His low overhead allowed him to offer better prices than his previous employer, while making more profit for himself.

Soon Yeardley had more work than he could handle. He even had to occasionally hire a “freelancer” to assist him. Of course, it wasn’t always busy. As in every small business, there were highs and lows of customers. But enough money came in to allow the boomer to continue supporting his family, while also saving for the future.

This was a story of luck and good fortune. Unfortunately, not many of those over the age of 50 could do the same. The employers of the world, especially in America, put a total premium on youth. They say, without words, “When someone hits the half century mark, their life is over.”

That prevailing attitude needs to be – and must be – vociferously rejected by the growing numbers of healthy and alert people over the age of 50.

Those employers who hire only youthful employees are not getting the best bargain for their wage money. Go to a search engine and type in the words “older employees benefit businesses” to see why.

Thousands of employers are learning that older workers offer desirable assets like loyalty, long experience in the job market and proven credibility when hired. Even more importantly, with the continually increasing demographic of Americans hitting the half century mark, mature employees can more easily connect with the older customer base.

There are also hundreds of studies showing that there’s little truth to the stereotype of the mid-ager as slow, less able to learn and lacking technological skills.

But age discrimination doesn’t only exist in the job market. It’s part of American media, and our media reflects our culture back to us. If ordinary people in films, television shows and advertisements are always young, then there will be no acceptance of seniors as part of our culture or our society.

The question which needs to be asked and studied is: “Why is there such discrimination against age?”

Two answers are obvious. Elders were considered containers of wisdom before things began to change as quickly as they do today. As the rate of change began to speed up, the wisdom of age was discredited. Instead, a more shallow definition of wisdom emerged. Wisdom became little more than knowing how to use a device or being good at social media.

At the same time, without recognizing it, society began to subconsciously magnify the human genetic imperative. It’s only relatively recently that humans began to live past the half century mark. Even more recent was the discovery that humans can still be active, energetic and healthy long past their senior years.

Yet our society and culture has not yet adapted to this new reality. Until boomers and seniors begin to collectively raise their voices in protest, that acceptance won’t happen. If you are over 50, 60 or even 70, your life is far from over.

It took decades of constant protest for minorities to gain acceptance in society, a fight that still continues. Boomers and seniors have not yet begun their fight. But that fight must start if there’s to be any change.

As someone over 50, active, healthy and alert, I call out to the world: Don’t tell ME my life is over!

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