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From the Newmaverse: Older workers wonder where all those jobs are

·Senior Columnist
·5 min read

When Noy Rigoni lost his welding job in 2019, he figured he’d have no trouble finding a new one. The job market in the Portland, Oregon, area, where he lives in the suburbs, was solid, plus, trade groups report a nationwide shortage of welders. But Rigoni has been unemployed almost nonstop since 2019. Jobless aid and federal stimulus helped, but with that money gone, Rigoni and his wife had no choice but to declare bankruptcy. They’re in danger of losing their house.

“I’m 60 years old,” Rigoni says. “I’ve worked on things from bicycle parts to nuclear reactor parts for 35 years. So you would think I would have no problem getting a job. But the few times I go in for a weld test, I do very well, but then I'm not hired. They give no reason why. I have no criminal record so the only other thing I can think of is it's my age.”

Many businesses say they’re desperate for workers, and overall, employers report nearly 11 million job openings nationwide, close to a record high. But the so-called labor shortage has several peculiarities. Some workers with the skills businesses supposedly need rarely get interviews, and wonder where in the world all those open jobs are. Others remain frustrated with inflexible work schedules and toxic culture, problems companies would presumably fix, if it were so hard to find and keep workers. Even some executives acknowledge that businesses aren’t paying as much attention to worker needs as they should be.

Older workers have an additional gripe. In January, after I wrote about household budgets that are getting tighter for a lot of people, many people wrote in to say ageism is a particular curse. “Everyone is overlooking us,” one man said. “Companies are not hiring a 60-year-old knowing they're close to retirement. And forget about a job at 60 if you don't have a degree!”

“If there’s so many jobs, why am I having a problem getting one?” asked another. “I’ve got 30+ years in the trades. I’ve got a strong customer service background. I’ve applied to more than 150 jobs in the last four months. Nothing. Today I turned 61. Is it my age?”

Older workers say they're at a disadvantage in the job market. Image: Getty
Older workers say they're at a disadvantage in the job market. Image: Getty

A survey of hiring managers by the employment nonprofit Generation found that most of them felt workers under 45 have the best skills and fit into corporate culture most easily. Yet older workers perform as well or better as younger ones in real-world scenarios. “Hiring managers have a negative view of 45+ job seekers,” the report concluded, “even though employers rate [them] highly.”

[The Newmaverse is Rick Newman’s community of commentators, critics, cranks and crazies. Join by following Rick on Twitter, signing up for his newsletter or sending in your thoughts. Future stories may result.]

One problem is an automated hiring system that may inherently discriminate against people whose resumes aren’t optimized for the algorithms many companies use to sift through job applications. A 2021 Harvard Business School study claims there are 27 million “hidden workers” in the U.S. labor force who might have valuable skills, yet still go undiscovered in the typical corporate hiring process. They might have gaps in employment due to episodic family caregiving requirements, or lack the latest training in a particular specialty. Some simply don’t include the right buzzwords on their resumes, so software doesn’t identify them as viable candidates.

Yahoo Finance senior columnist and career expert Kerry Hannon says these types of barriers are most likely to affect workers 50 and older, in part because older workers are simply more likely to have had a career interruption. This may also explain the corporate ghosting that has become a dispiriting new phenomenon.

It's no secret that computers and hiring managers look for gaps and other unstated clues as part of an elimination process. Leah Deaver, a phlebotomist in Redding, Calif., only puts her most recent 10 years of work history on her resume, because she doesn’t want 30-plus years of work to hint at her age.

“I know they’ll see I’m 58 years old in an interview,” she says, “but it scares me to put the years of work on my resume.”

Deaver has changed careers several times to keep up with the times. After a corporate merger eliminated her phone company jobs in the 1990s, she went back to school and became a medical assistant in a doctor’s office. When the doctor sold the practice and replaced the staff, she got trained and licensed as a phlebotomist, a medical professional who draws blood, which the Labor Department identifies as a fast-growing field. Interviews have been scarce, however, and she's not sure if inexperience or age explain why.

There’s often little recourse for people who feel they’re victims of age discrimination. An unemployed paralegal in Oregon says she can’t get hired despite four decades of experience and “stellar references.” “Due to my age,” she says, “I do not even get my resume or application reviewed.” But it’s almost impossible to come up with the hard evidence necessary to prove discrimination.

“Many of the people running out of money,” the paralegal says, “are older workers who cannot get re-employed due to rampant ageism.” Some fed-up workers retire early, but for many that's not an option. Meanwhile, retirement savings dwindle.

Rick Newman is a columnist and author of four books, including "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.

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