I clung to the middle class as I aged. The pandemic pulled me under
Source: The Washington Post
By Ray Suarez
An eye blink ago, I was anchoring a nightly program for the cable news network Al Jazeera America. Before that, I had long tenures with “PBS NewsHour” and NPR. When I read warnings that workers could face sudden and catastrophic losses of income in their final years of employment, I was empathetic but concluded it could never happen to me. Then the wheels came off.
After Al Jazeera pulled the plug on its young network, I shoved down the rising panic, kept one eye on my bank balance as I started freelancing, and kept the other eye out for the next big thing. Like hundreds of thousands of men in their early 60s across the country, I had to get used to the idea that the marketplace might have already decided I was “done.”
“What’s this about? Corporate greed. Greed has a lot to do with it,” says Nick Corcodilos, the author of the Ask the Headhunter blog and an employment consultant.
Six years ago respected news correspondent Ray Suarez interviewed me on the fledgling Al Jazeera America network about why good people can’t find jobs. Ray’s stellar career included years at PBS NewsHour and NPR. He’s a 60+ old white guy with a lot of talent. Is corporate greed killing off the well-paid professionals that help make corporate America rich? That’s what I think.
Are companies wise to eliminate their most experienced and costly older workers? It certainly saves them money. Does it actually pay off? Share your own stories — but what I’d really like is your analysis about whether this is good for business and the economy. (In this highly charged time of partisan politics, I ask that we avoid partisan politics in our discussion — there’s plenty to say and debate about how this affects business, the economy, and workers. Let’s try to stick to that. Thanks for your cooperation.)
One day I called my boss to give him 2 week notice (he is in another state anyway, but even if he was local, I would still have had to call him due to social distancing). The next day or so my previous company announced they were cutting everyone’s salary 20% temporarily (it is a reputable company so I believe this). A former coworker said I got out just in time. I have been at my new job a month. This year I turn 55 – the age when my grandfather retired.
I suspect my new job will be there for a long time and it has a rest of my working life potential.
I am not holding still – I am working with my best friend on slowly starting a business. We have a mentor through score.org. This friend is in their early 60’s.
PS: I like experienced people. So does my current workplace.
I worked for my current employer’s competitor previously. The competitor sold the company to a large steel mill. Then the “downsizing started” (300 out the door, including myself with 6 years of service). The targets? Older higher paid workers, many with 20-40+ years of service. In 2010, I found myself again on the unemployment line, but that time I wasn’t 30, I was 52, and that time it wasn’t for 2-3 months, it was for 13 months. I’d never consciously experienced ageism, but then, despite a valiant and aggressive job search, it was in my face. Some of my former colleagues, many who’d started at the bottom and worked their way up, went from earning $150K+ per year ($150K per year in Kansas City is like $170-$180K elsewhere) to making $10-$12 an hour operating forklifts, working for landscapers, or in other low-level jobs. Some never got reemployed, and a couple offed themselves. The new company was a youth oriented culture. So the seasoned and loyal guys that knew the equipment, the business, and the customer base were replaced by twenty and thirty somethings. Many of these replacements were recent college grads. Problem was, they didn’t know anything about the equipment, the business, and the customer base, and many didn’t want to put forth the effort to learn it, nor stick around long enough to learn it (can’t really blame them, all things considered). Case in point. There was a scale operator with 24 years of service. This guy could do his job blindfolded. Solid work ethic. Conscientious. He was then age 64, and announced his retirement date at age 65, which was 6 months or so away. A few days before Christmas, he was called in and told his services were no longer required. They quickly replaced him with two twenty year old girls, both making about $12 per hour. Bang for the buck, they thought they were winners. The rub was this. One young woman didn’t make it through the 90 days. She was terminated due to excessive absenteeism and tardiness. The other young woman made it to 6 months, but was terminated after “lighting up like a Christmas tree” after a random drug screen (zero tolerance policy). Today this company is a clown show. Was this is a wise move? Is this a good business model? I’d say no. But employers don’t see it this way. Eliminating dead wood is one thing. Eliminating seasoned and loyal (older) employees makes no sense. But many employers attribute their success solely to themselves, and not to their grunts in the trenches, nor do they reward these grunts. “Your job is reward enough” is the new mantra (been there, done that). Nick Corcodilos’s endorsement aside about the guy in this article, while I can relate to his plight, I can’t relate to this white collar “gig” job path he, and others like him, are bent on pursuing, then complaining that these gigs aren’t panning out as they’d hoped. At 62, I’m working two jobs, and I still earn 22% less than what I was earning in 2010. Plenty of older men have had to take low-level jobs (provided they can even beat the ageism and find one), and if anything for the insurance, plus tack on an additional part-time gig (or two). Btw (hear my words, Nick Corcodilos), reading some of the commentary from this article, the little I could stomach (Washington Post, consider the source), here’s what I say to the SJW chest pounding, and excoriating displaced older male workers for some so called white male patriarchal privilege. Ask the guys I worked with who busted their chops to get ahead (not in some do nothing made for work job either) and are now well up in their 60s and laying sod for $10 an hour in 100 degree weather, if they somehow feel “privileged”!
Well said Antonio.
Well said, and count the women in too. My trials started in my late 40s after 9/11.
Dee-one of the sadder casualties of this corporate barbarism (“it’s just business”. Yeah right!) I described in my post was a then 62 year old bookkeeper who started working there at age 18. The only real job she’d ever had. Impeccable work ethic and record. 44 years of loyal service. Nice lady. Her husband, well into his 70s, had Alzheimer’s. Her words “I’m 62 years old, who’s going to hire me now”? I don’t know if this poor woman ever did get reemployed.
“Nick Corcodilos’s endorsement aside about the guy in this article, while I can relate to his plight, I can’t relate to this white collar “gig” job path he, and others like him, are bent on pursuing, then complaining that these gigs aren’t panning out as they’d hoped.”
What’s the difference between a white-collar gig path that doesn’t pay well and a manual-labor gig path that doesn’t pay well? Is there something more noble about one than the other?
Whether you’re making $150k rolling steel, or $150k reporting the news, what’s that got to do with what “pans out” best when you’re dumped because you’re over 60?
And what’s “SJW chest pounding”? “White male patriarchal privilege”? I was getting your point, then you lost me.
Nick Corcodilos-If you would read the commentary below the article, you’ll see the SJW card, virtue signaling, blaming people who have no skin in the game, and the male patriarchal spiel that’s the hallmark for your PBS, Washington Post, and others. Unlike you, I have zero respect for these media sources. No, I actually don’t think someone who’s made a career out of do nothing/soft money/made for work white collar managerial jobs, and then thinks they can pay the bills on doing Ted Talks, baloney consulting gigs, and sketchy freelance work engenders much empathy at all. I’ve seen these types over many years. This guy, like others, wants to leverage himself in a market where his skills have NO market value. Plus, sounds like he can’t hardly physically cross the room to go to the head. Maybe sell his home and downsize, get out of Washington DC, get a Pell Grant and retrain in a vocational occupation, get a lower-level job with insurance and moonlight a second job. All kinds of men, young and old, even with disabilities, do it.
“someone who’s made a career out of do nothing/soft money/made for work white collar managerial jobs”
You’re displaying the same stereotyping that white-collar workers often fall prey to when they disparage blue-collar workers and laborers. Please consider that were it not for the work of good managers, steel workers would have no jobs rolling steel. Ray Suarez is a smart, talented guy who has contributed a lot in his field and deserves no less respect than a factory worker who has lost their job. Bias cuts two ways, Antonio, and it’s ugly whoever displays it.
“This guy, like others, wants to leverage himself in a market where his skills have NO market value. Plus, sounds like he can’t hardly physically cross the room to go to the head.”
Personally disparaging Ray Suarez, whom you clearly don’t know, because he’s not in a vocational occupation, doesn’t help your message. And how do you know he has not applied for, or done, “lower level work” or moonlighted? Or that he can’t cross a room to go to the head? Because he didn’t spell out his entire life in his column? What you’re doing to Ray and all white-collar workers is exactly what you accuse managers and bean counters of. It’s hard to take seriously the valid points that you often make when your veer into over-generalizations, personal attacks and demonstrate your own biases.
It takes all kinds of work to create and run companies and to produce products, sell and support them. Nowadays it seems noble for the hand to criticize the brain, or for the mouth to criticize the ass, when they’re all part of the same body. Managers and mechanics at a steel mill all make the steel mill go.
You don’t ennoble the work you do by disparaging the work others do.
There is something more noble about the grunt rolling steel than the bean counter, or the do nothing overpaid manager (or some washed out reporter for a has been network). The grunt rolling steel is generating wealth. The bean counter and do nothing manager is sucking wealth out the company.
Let me pose a question: We are all getting older. Age discrimination exists, sadly. Maybe we can’t stop people from discriminating based on age, but what do all of you think the best steps are for us as workers to take? I turn 55 this year – my grandfather retired at that age and vegetated the rest of his life (he lived 31 more years). I don’t want to do that. Do we plan on changing careers? Starting a business? Write our elected officials? All of the above?
I would be interested in hearing ideas.
PS: What I have heard is not so much along the lines of “age discrimination” but more along the lines of “we don’t have any senior level positions.”
Antonio most times I like your take on things, me being a previous grunt “mechanic/day labor/handyman/furniture mover/house cleaner” but now you are off target and Nick’s comments (especially the last paragraph)are on target, at some level we are all grunts of some sort and play a part. The bean counter tells if you are making a profit or not, the grunt rolling the steel only knows to ‘roll the steel”; a manager makes sure everything “equipment/materials/maintenance/utilities/HR:) etc.” are in place for the grunt before the rolling can take place.
Larry, My point (which for some reason is not resonating as no one apparently read the commentary at the end of the Washington Post article, and is now a moot point) is this male patriarchal privilege and the usual SJW diatribe the progressives who read the Washington Post were throwing out in the commentary section. I really don’t think you as a former grunt who turned a wrench, or those guys I worked shoulder-shoulder with in the trenches, believe for a minute they’re somehow privileged! Nor do I really think you, and I know for a fact those guys I once worked with, ever had a love affair with the bean counters, management, and especially HR. I’ve been around too long and seen too much to naively accept that.
My brother worked for an oil well servicing company for 40+ yrs until he died. He had first hand knowledge of the massive oil spill and fire in the Gulf. He said that when the oil companies merged, experienced senior off shore engineers were let go for recent college grads with 0 experience. This lead to the oil well failure and loss of life. The senior engineers were not out of work for more than a month or so and were hired by other oil companies. Let’s hope the oil company learned a valuable lesson.
As for myself(68 now), I prepared for retirement years ago anticipating not being able to find part time work, so I took a passion of coin and currency collecting from my youth, learned all I could through interning and being mentored by others and by reading and building a huge reference library, joining organizations, and just plain research. I now sell at antique and military shows, buy from other dealers and estates. I am not afraid make some huge purchases, but it does make my wife nervous…. I do make occasional mistakes and loose money. Right now, I have been shut down by the virus and if I have to, I can sell my inventory and survive or I can start selling online, but that is not as much fun as meeting people.
My point is, prepare yourself for being forced out or retirement. I am not making as much as I was, but I enjoy what I am doing and never know what I will find (came across a verified document signed by Abe Lincoln, which I was not able to buy, but loved holding it). My brother started whining at age 60 not knowing what he was going to do when he retired. He died at 74 still working for the same company because he had no other interest. He was fortunate to work for a company that valued senior employees. Don’t be like him, look at your interests and other skills you may have and prepare yourself. He had an interest and knowledge of hot rodding, but never pursued it. Living in SO CAL was the ideal location!
@Mike: When I was in my late twenties and still single but having gone through some layoffs and bankruptcy, I decided to pursue my other interest: Music. I had been a church organist for over a decade – and having such a job helped put me through college for my engineering degree. 3 years later just as I was ready to turn 33, I graduated a from a top music school with a double major master’s degree in organ performance and church music. I was a full time church musician for 5 years – and a couple of choir members introduced me to my wife – we celebrate 20 years together this year. We have two wonderful teenagers.
I don’t make as much music anymore as I eventually returned to engineering. Even so, I got to explore a passion while I was young. My professor at the time, a well known concert artist in my field, and one of the most down to earth people you will ever meet, said I had a lot of courage.
Music helped me become a stronger engineer – for example, we deal a lot with harmonics in music theory. The first music theory lecture in graduate school for music was the Fourier series (in music it’s the overtone series). In my later microwave work my application of harmonics helped me design a TDR (time domain reflectometer). Now I work with sound in water.
Now in my mid 50’s, I recently began a great new job, and I’m working on slowly founding a company with my best friend.
Retirement? Are you kidding??? I’m having too much fun!!!
Don’t wait for a retirement that may never come to follow that dream.
PS: Having to move away from music as a full time occupation was one of my great disappointments, but I’m the kind of person who can dust myself off and start over.
Where my new business is concerned, I had been hoping for the opportunity to be more electrical and software. It is not. So I am now negotiating with a commercial 3D software package to get a year of access for free – I have learning to do and knowledge from the few mechanical engineering courses I took to fall back on.
I worked for a small niche newspaper that was closed abruptly in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But all of us suspected that the real reasons were political and financial issues in the background. In essence, COVID-19 was used as a BS excuse. With the exception of one person, we are all over 50 (I’m 62), so age discrimination could have also played a part, but I’m not entirely sure about that because other people have been laid off as well in recent weeks, although I don’t know the ages of those people. Newspapers were in a bad situation long before the pandemic, but this has just accelerated their demise, especially the smaller ones like ours.
Looking for FT work has been a mixed bag. I got the usual rejections or have been ghosted. Most places have hiring freezes in place with no clear timeline as to when they will be lifted. One company did communicate with me and left the door open somewhat about the position I applied for and told me to reapply when the job is reposted. What really irritates me is that I’ve been ghosted by a few of my networking contacts. Either they are terrified for their own jobs or are too busy trying to negotiate their own workload at home. I would understand if they would tell me that. When I was employed, I got a few such inquiries about job requests myself from former coworkers, and if I was able to help them, I would. If I couldn’t, I would tell them that politely, wish them luck and say that I’d keep an eye out for opportunities for them when I saw them. To me, that is the essence of good networking sense, that you try to help if you are able and at the very least, be an encouraging presence if you can’t. But don’t flat out ignore people.
In any case, I am taking an online coding/Wordpress course that will eventually enable me to have a freelance gig on the side or as might be more realistic, doing it as a supplement in addition to whatever kind of other job I can scare up.
@Liz: This is indeed a problem – using COVID as a screen for business decisions that are actually triggered by other agendas. You’re never really going to know, so just move on.
My suggestion about getting ghosted by your contacts is to make it easy for them to tell you the truth.
“Thanks for any help! And by the way, I know you may not be able to help at this time, and the last thing I want is for you to feel awkward about it! Our friendship matters too much to me for such misunderstandings. If you have no ideas right now, please let me know so we’re square! Thanks again.”
Get the idea? Make it easy for them. Don’t jeopardize friendships!
@Nick. Thank you for giving me guidance and a script to use! I was a bit taken aback regarding my networking contacts not responding at all. Apparently, I came across the wrong way, although I tried very hard not to. Your advice is very much appreciated. Thanks again.
As for my former employer, good luck to them. They are going to need it.
@Liz: You’re welcome. Hope it helps! Remember: Tune my “how to say it” to suit your own style and judgment.
@Nick: Thank you! I will do that.
3 weeks ago, I started a part time position on referral from a former coworker. I only work 3days/week for 7 hrs and love it. So, referral’s do help. Keeps me busy and a little extra cash for travel. Not bad for 69yrs old.