Age Discrimination Goes Mainstream in America
“Do I say anything to her or not?” I ask myself, averting my eyes from my neighbor who is handing out coupons for dog food at a giant chain pet store. “Pat,” 66, an attractive stylish woman, looks a little too attractive, professional as she sings the praises of her dog food brand. “That’s me in a few weeks,” I say to myself slipping around another aisle to avoid her. Suddenly, I can’t remember what I came in for. I walk around the store disoriented, worried, no, terrified.
Pat hails from the commercial real estate business, 30 some years but lately she’s been having problems getting picked up by an agency, being out on her own now too hard. She is every professional’s professional: extremely well dressed, knowledgeable as hell, experienced, nice. “Why is she handing out dog food coupons?” Feeling sheepish, weird, I circle back to say hi. She responds the same…says something about selling her house and leaving, “I have to.” I nod my head up and down slowly and mumble about missing her, wishing her the best, let’s get together (we never do).
We don’t talk about “Miranda,” in her mid-60’s, addicted to painkillers/opioids, lives on Pat’s street. In the past, when we ran into one another, we would talk about Miranda. Miranda has a B.A. She pet sits, loves animals, has a heart of gold but can’t seem to shake the addiction. She is always looking for work, money, though she is married, her husband is always ‘out of town.’ Too much pain for me in this interaction, for both of us, I bail us both out by saying “I’ve really gotta’ go.” (I don’t).
I think about Marlee, 57, drives for Uber. Can’t find a ‘real’ job. Has a M.S. in Geology and years of experience. She’s thinking about living in a RV, ditching her Sacramento apartment.
Once home, I check my email/voice mail. Nothing but it does look like I have a substitute teaching job this week, yearly salary, $23,000 at best. I try not to look at my roof, the faded paint on the outside of the house, the dry wall flaking off the framing in the garage, the dry rot, the bathroom not finished, the old carpets…it goes on. I tell myself, “something will come through! I have two degrees, 40 years of experience from around the world!” but then my mind settles once again on the 30-something at my last interview asking me “how do you do at 5,000 feet?”
You see, I am a field biologist and writer of many decades. I lead hikes, do field work, write nature/environmental articles. When I taught snow skiing for a local ski area, I was in better shape than half of my 20-something ‘colleagues,’ sometimes emerging from their vans stoned out of their minds (but why not, they’re in their 20’s?). An impressive resume of trips, field experience, it’s pretty obvious I do fine at and above 5,000 feet or I wouldn’t have applied for the damn job. I wanted to answer, “I do fucking fine at 5,000 feet. How do YOU do? You look a little out of shape.”
The young woman was interviewing me for a summer job leading backpacking trips, behind her head is a poster sized photo of “the team,” none looking over 35 look back at me. She seemed to have no clue she was likely breaking the law, engaging in what is now rampant throughout America–age discrimination. I didn’t get the job. Incredible.
I reflect back on an interview I had a few months before with a consulting company, all younger than me, I would guess ranging in age from late 20’s to mid-40’s. One of the young men on the interview panel tells me I remind him “of his mom.” I grimace because I don’t understand why he would say something like this during an interview.
The 40-something leans out to tell him with his eyes to shut up. Nonetheless, there is some probing regarding if I can still do field work. I am obviously in great shape, fit. I have led field expeditions to some remote areas in Alaska. I get pissed off. That our governor is almost 80 years old and age discrimination is now business as usual in California further inflames me. It is so obvious that I offer incredible experience, a solid education, am so capable, am mature! That I am pitted against a 27 year old with no experience…I don’t get it. Someone explain it to me. (Oh, that’s right. I’m “too expensive.”)
When I get home, I get on line, thinking I will file a complaint against them but I am soon confused as hell. Do I contact the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)? I make a few phone calls and finally reach someone at the DLSE. She tells me to definitely file a complaint. She explains the long process, the form, nothing guaranteed…I hang up. Why is the burden ON ME to do this? Explain this to me? I don’t want to work for a company that rejects experience and maturity anyway so I drop the idea, the problem being, they all seem to be discriminating against us now and NOTHING is happening to change it, the general theme of living in America now–nothing happens to change anything unfair, unjust, dishonest, cruel.
I fix on a NPR blitz story I heard just a few weeks prior, celebrating the state of Wisconsin’s complete engagement in blatant age discrimination–they have started a “campaign” to attract millennials to the state, throw over their own experienced, mature workers for, let’s face it, cheaper labor, and they’re proud of this. So proud. I make a mental note to research how many of their middle aged population are poverty level, homeless, addicted to opioids, no doubt a few Bachelor, Master’s degrees in there, experience, but who cares if showing them respect by hiring them, paying them what they’re worth might reduce the drug use, the despair. Pump in those millennials goddamn it! Yeah, that’s the answer!
My mind immediately starts its incessant loop again–how I will pay my bills now that my property taxes have gone up $300 in one year. I get back on Craigslist. There’s a food demo job at my local grocery store, $12/hour. I stare at it then angrily shut down my computer, call the dog, and go for a walk.