business writing

The Gray Ceiling

Employers, take note.

As much as you want to deny it, there IS a gray ceiling in the job market, and it affects displaced workers age 55 and up. When you’re 60, my age, 55, seems so young. Which it is. My husband was first displaced from the job market at age 55. A commercial real estate developer, the real estate market pushed he and his partners over a cliff and that was the end of real estate developing as he knew it. Since then, he reinvented himself more times than I can remember. First, he became a stockbroker, an interest he had held as a teen, but in the real world of being one, hated the pressures of having to make quota every month. Next he worked for free for 3 years trying to build a refrigerated warehouse on the docks for the longshoremen. The deal was he’d receive equity in the warehouse as well as commission the day the longshoremen moved in. But, it wasn’t meant to be with a democratic governor. That governor, Glendenning, cared more about raising taxes than giving jobs to unions, or making our harbor a profitable place for perishable goods to be warehoused. From there, my husband has been a property manager, project manager, contractual project manager, construction foreman, construction manager, and most recently, semi retired. Having been a past veteran matters not. All his career, he has never received credit for working for America. I wonder how our young veterans are faring now?

In fact, since that day when he came home at 2:00 pm, defeated and deflated, 13 years ago, the rules in the commercial end of real estate development has changed 5 times. Every few years, the market flipflops, and rules change again. One main thing that has stayed constant, however, is the fact that many workers hit the grey ceiling long before being eligible for social security. If you’ve been in commercial industrial real estate most of your life, no will hire you for Walmart greeter, marketing manager, or even shelf stocker at Target. By picking one career over another, it’s as if you’re labeled as such for life. The hiring manager also will accuse you of not wanting to stay put in your new position should your former one reopen.

It seems I can’t stop writing about this tragedy in American history. But I’m glad to give voice to this long lasting dilemma. Upper management still employed treats the unemployed like a disease. Post interview calls go unanswered. Interviews are done via phone only. Head hunters bend over backwards to make a commission, only to be told by the company they’re working with that the hopeful candidate did not get the job because the company hired from within. Mostly, that’s a thinly veiled lie.

It happened to me too, at age 58. I look a lot younger than I am, so perhaps that bought me time. I did find another job after 8 months but 3 years later, I was laid off again. Recently, however, a woman I know hit the grey ceiling, and although she claims she has numerous degrees and certifications, she has not found another job in two years of trying. For a long time before she was laid off, she kept bragging about how her many degrees would save her from joblessness. How only I’d been screwed. I tried to let her down easy and say that although I lacked a college degree, I possessed extensive knowledge of MS Office and Blackbaud that she did not have, but she was in true denial. Two years after the fact, she has given up finding another job that pays over $10/hour, and includes the ever important benefits package.

Employers, I understand that our POTUS has done squat in nearly 8 years to promote our economy, so that many companies are running scared, or closing their doors forever. But, from where you sit and cannot see, or even fathom, it might happen to you, there are a plethora of extremely well qualified workers seeking jobs in almost all fields. Show compassion. More and more unemployed but qualified seniors are learning your tricks. Being among them, my husband and I have come to realize that jobs on websites, if not filled within a week, are not meant to be filled ever. They are either bogus positions, or such high pressure jobs that a chimp would not want to be hired.

Neither my husband or I want a benefits package but we do want jobs that pay enough to get us out of bed in the morning. I have 42 years’ experience in reception, social media (once called public relations), writing, editing, development, and secretarial, and all the interest I can garner is in demo marketing. Some companies advertise for receptionists but the duties they’ll be responsible for fit administrative assistant positions at a receptionist’s pay scale. I’ve earned as much as $19 an hour, so believe me when I say $10 an hour isn’t worth the gas used to drive to a job from Towson to Aberdeen!

I must admit that when my husband said Target turned him down as an overnight shelf stocker, I thought he was kidding. But when Walmart turned me down as a greeter, I understood. I was told I was not experienced enough in greeting, and my husband basically was too old.

A lot of friends my age have been forced to allow their college educated children to move home again. Or, are paying their bills. Another friend bought her grown son a health insurance plan he could live with.

What I’d like to see happen is age and experience trump youth. That was another untruth I was assured by the MD Department of Unemployment Insurance. I have nothing against recent college graduates but I do take exception when my past experience, whether I began working at age 19, or 40, automatically moves my resume to the bottom of the pile. As a published writer and owner of my own business, I can take rejection if it’s warranted. But the aging process is not a disease or failure to perform as necessary. That’s what I implore to current presidents, managers and owners of companies in America.

Give seniors a chance!image


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