Image:Joyce Kalivas-Grffin
John Brecher  /
Joyce Kalivas-Griffin, 57, thinks her age might be making it more difficult for her to find a new job.
By Allison Linn Senior writer
updated 6/29/2010 7:47:05 AM ET 2010-06-29T11:47:05

After getting laid off from her job at a private school, Joyce Kalivas-Griffin was heartened to see virtually the same job open up at another school in her area.

Kalivas-Griffin, 57, applied for the job, but heard nothing. Then the job was posted again, and she applied again, this time submitting a resume that she had edited to mask her age.

The second time, she said she was called in for an interview, but eventually lost out to a younger candidate.

Kalivas-Griffin doesn’t think that the other candidate was any less qualified, but she does think that her own age played a role in not getting the job.

“I have to kind of be almost pragmatic about it,” she said. “Would I hire somebody that was 57, thinking, ‘Will she be around? Will I be able to have a history with her (or) will she retire in two years or four years or six years?’”

The recent recession has amplified concerns that older workers are facing a tougher time getting — or keeping — jobs because of stereotypes about everything from the salaries they may demand to their ability to learn new skills.

    1. Vote: Have you seen — or been a victim of — age discrimination?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saw a 33 percent increase in the number of age discrimination complaints that were filed during its past two fiscal years combined, as compared to the prior two fiscal years. That translates into 47,360 complaints filed between October 2007, two months before the nation went into recession, and September of 2009.

Over the same two-year period, total discrimination complaints to the EEOC rose 19 percent, to 188,679. Discrimination complaints in general tend to rise during economic downturns, when people are more likely to lose a job and have more trouble finding new work.

Older workers seen as more expensive
Companies are desperate to cut costs in a weak economy. Experts say older workers  can become more vulnerable because more experienced workers tend to command higher salaries. A company looking at the bottom line may conclude that the best thing to do is cut the most expensive employees.

“What they end up doing is lay off the older folks,” said Mike Baldonado, district director of the EEOC in the San Francisco office, which has seen a surge in complaints since the recession began.

Some older workers, such as Kalivas-Griffin, say they are finding their job search much more arduous than in the past.

Major Market Indices

The unemployment rate for workers 55 and older is lower than for any other age group, at 7.1 percent in May as compared to 9.7 percent for the population as a whole. But those older workers who lose their jobs are taking much longer to find a new one.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said workers ages 55 to 64 were taking an average of 44.5 weeks to find a new job in May, compared with 35.1 weeks for the population as a whole. The latest jobless numbers for June are due out Friday.

Readers, we want to hear from you about job discrimination against millennials

Assumptions are widespread
Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who has researched this topic extensively, said that while most employers know it’s unacceptable to make a broad judgments about women or minorities  — such as saying that they don’t respond well to change or aren’t fast learners — people will routinely make such comments about older workers.

“What is different about age discrimination is that the assumptions are so much more widespread and the apparent willingness to act on them is much more widespread,” Cappelli said.

Kalivas-Griffin, who lives in Tacoma, Wash., had been the facilities and transportation secretary at a private school for 12 years when she was laid off in November of 2008. She thought her years at the private school, combined with extensive prior experience doing bookkeeping and taxes, would make her an ideal job candidate.

Instead, she now thinks that her long resume could have been a turnoff to employers, who may have worried that she’d be overqualified or not stick around long enough.

Besides editing her resume, Kalivas-Griffin has lost 25 pounds and cut and dyed her hair. Still, she’s had no luck landing a job.

She’d prefer a full-time job because it would give her and her husband, a contract worker, access to health insurance and other benefits. But increasingly, she said she is moving toward starting her own bookkeeping and tax business, while selling custom-made jewelry on the side.

As a business owner, she thinks her years of experience are more likely to be a help rather than a hindrance.

“I did taxes in the past and I don’t think that anybody said, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’re in your 50s,’ ” she said.

Age complaints hard to prove
Although many workers may suspect their age is hurting them in the working world, experts say it can be quite difficult to prove age discrimination has occurred, particularly during the more anonymous hiring process.

Many experts believe it’s gotten even tougher since a Supreme Court ruling last year that said employees must show age was the motivating factor in a demotion or firing, rather than just a part of the decision.

“It’s very hard to prove that the employer was motivated exclusively on the basis of age,” said Baldonado, of the EEOC.

Congress is considering legislation, the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, that would re-establish the previous standard for age discrimination, but so far it hasn’t gone beyond committee hearings.

When employers cut workers of any age, they must be able to prove it was done equitably and fairly, Baldonado said. Companies can find themselves in hot water if they tell employees directly that they are being demoted or fired because they are too old, or make pointed comments such as, “It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks.”

Subtle signs of bias
Older jobseekers say the signs of what they perceive to be age discrimination are often much more subtle.

D. Brian Plunkett, 54 and a former chief financial officer for a wireless company, thought he was a shoo-in for a job with a family-owned uniform company after an extensive interview with the company's human resources department. Then he spent five uncomfortable minutes with the company’s young, new president, after which he never heard from the company directly again.

A recruiter later told Plunkett the company thought he seemed “too comfortable” during the interview. Plunkett suspects it was because he was considerably older than his would-be boss.

Cappelli said his research has shown that a fear of managing older workers is one of the big reasons age bias occurs.

“Younger managers are threatened by older workers, and the reason they’re threatened is that they don’t know how to supervise them,” he said.

Cappelli said other concerns people have about older workers — such as that they will not stick around a long time — can also be true of younger workers, who may be apt to switch jobs at a moment’s notice. He said while younger workers can bring a fresh perspective and new skills, older workers can offer the institutional knowledge, interpersonal skills and other types of experience that come with years on the job.

Living with his mother in Maryland and desperate for work after more than two years of unemployment, Plunkett has applied for any finance position he can find, even entry-level ones.

He concedes that when he was a hiring manager, he might have been skeptical of someone at his level of experience trying for a job that would normally go to a much younger worker. But he said there’s only so much he can do to mask his level of expertise.

“I’ve had three substantial jobs and the oldest one starts in 1984,” he said. “They can do the math. You know, this guy isn’t 30.”

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Photos: What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

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  1. Daniel Schorr, journalist, 93

    Schorr began his career as a foreign correspondent in 1946, after serving in U.S. Army intelligence during World War II.

    In 1953, he joined CBS News, where his accomplishments included opening a bureau in Moscow, interviewing Fidel Castro, covering the building of the Berlin Wall and reporting on domestic issues such as civil rights. In the early 1970s, he became part of the Watergate scandal he was covering when it was revealed that he was on President Nixon’s “enemies list.”

    He served as CNN’s senior correspondent from 1979 until 1985. Since then, he has worked primarily as a news analyst for National Public Radio. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Bob Lutz, former General Motors executive, 78

    Lutz announced plans to retire at least twice in recent years, but instead ended up back in the executive suite. This time, however, it seems to have stuck. Lutz officially stepped down in May, saying in a statement, "I can confidently say that the job I came here to do more than nine years ago is now complete."

    In July of 2009, Lutz canceled plans to quit and instead said he would continue at General Motors following the ailing Detroit automaker’s trip through bankruptcy court.

    Lutz had previously retired from Chrysler Corp. in 1998, soon after the Daimler-Chrysler merger. Over his nearly 50-year career, the Swiss-born Lutz also has worked at BMW and Ford. (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, 79

    Legendary investor Warren Buffett is known for his wildly successful investment strategy, which has made him one of the world’s wealthiest men and also minted many millionaires out of his investors.

    Buffett is perhaps as well-known for his wealth as for his modest lifestyle and philanthropy.

    In his 2007 letter to shareholders, Buffett made clear that there is a plan for others to take over: “I’ve reluctantly discarded the notion of my continuing to manage the portfolio after my death -- abandoning my hope to give new meaning to the term ‘thinking outside the box.'" (Carlos Barria / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. George Soros, investor, 79

    Born in Budapest in 1930, George Soros survived the Nazi occupation and ended up in England, where he attended the London School of Economics before starting an investment advisory firm in the United States.

    Soros is the author of 11 books, including “The Crash of 2008 and What it Means to You,” and has been a frequent commentator on the current financial crisis. (Imaginechina) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Queen Elizabeth II, British monarch, 84

    Queen Elizabeth II took the throne at age 25, following the death of her father, King George VI, and has continued to perform royal duties in Britain for more than five decades.

    Her tenure has been marked by periods of intense public scrutiny, especially during the very public divorce of her son, Prince Charles, from the late Princess Diana. The queen has continued to maintain a full schedule and recently turned out for a public celebration of her birthday in London. (James Glossop / Pool - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Clint Eastwood, actor and director, 80

    After getting his start as an actor in B movies and the television series “Rawhide,” multiple Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood broke out with movies in the 1970s including “Dirty Harry” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

    He also has served as a director for highly regarded movies including “Million Dollar Baby,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Leters from Iwo Jima” and “Mystic River.”

    Eastwood also had a brief stint in politics as mayor of the small town of Carmel, Calif. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Hugh Hefner, Playboy, 84

    After an early start in the cartoon business, Hugh Hefner launched the first issue of the men’s magazine Playboy out of his Chicago apartment in 1953. By the 1960s, the magazine had spawned a syndicated television show, clubs, resorts, a casino and other entertainment.

    As the public face of the Playboy empire, Hefner became famous for living the lifestyle his magazine and other properties glorified, jetting around in the Big Bunny jet and spending his days at the Playboy Mansion.

    Hefner still holds the title of editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for AFI) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Cloris Leachman, entertainer, 84

    After getting her start in show business in the 1940s, Cloris Leachman went on to appear in television shows including the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Malcolm in the Middle.”

    Most recently, Leachman competed in the reality television show “Dancing With the Stars” and is slated to appear in a new Quentin Tarantino film, “Inglourious Basterds.”

    Leachman also recently released an autobiography and a clothing line, and showed off her bathing suit body in a recent issue of In Touch Weekly. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Comedy Central) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Regis Philbin, entertainer, 78

    If it seems like you’ve been watching Regis Philbin your whole life, you aren’t alone: the TV personality has been appearing on television for decades, and was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records for logging the most hours on the tube.

    Philbin got his start as in 1958 as a San Diego news anchor. He is best known for his morning talk show, “Live with Regis and Kelly.” Although the show has changed names, iterations of it have been in syndication since 1988.

    He also has served as host for other shows, including “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and “America’s Got Talent,” has appeared in movies and has released several albums. (Vince Bucci / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Carl Icahn, activist investor, 74

    Carl Icahn began his investment career in 1961 after stints in medical school and the army.

    As an investor, he is known for taking major positions in companies and then pushing for the agenda he thinks will best serve shareholders, even if it is at odds with current management.

    Forbes estimates that his net worth is approximately $10.5 billion.

    Icahn has shown no signs of slowing. In addition to being chairman of Icahn Enterprises, he serves as chairman of auto parts supplier Federal-Mogul and biotech firm ImClone Systems. He is on the boards of his own philanthropic foundations. (Mark Lennihan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Kirk Kerkorian, investor, 93

    The head of investment firm Tracinda Corp., Kirk Kerkorian is known for his investments in Las Vegas casino operations and the auto industry.

    In 2008, Kerkorian took a significant stake in Ford Motor Co., but he ended up selling most of the stake by the end of the year.

    Kerkorian also made an unsuccessful bid for Chrysler and in 2006 sold much of his stake in carmaker GM after the company rejected his suggestion of an alliance with Nissan and Renault.

    Kerkorian also is a major investor in MGM Resorts International, the Las Vegas gambling company. (William Thomas Cain / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Fired after 50

  1. Closed captioning of: Fired after 50

    >>> losing your job can be hard at any age, but how do you cope if you are fired in your 50s? at the age of 51, doreen motten was part after company-wide layoff, now she runs her own business. lee kravitz was fired at 54 and he decided to write a book, " unfinished business ." deborah russell is aarp's director of workforce issues. good morning to you all. deborah , if i can start with you. looking at these numbers, and it is over 300% increase in the number of people over the age of 50 who are losing their jobs. are these people who are opting out? are they being fired? are they deciding they want to retire early?

    >> many of these people it is really a result of downsizing. the economy has certainly forced many employers to look at talent management and do reduction in forces. so many of these people are unemployed as a result of that.

    >> what challenges did they face as a result of that?

    >> the first challenge, just being an older individual who may have found themselves out of work for the first time in many, many years. and finding themselves with the fact that the job search process has changed significantly over that time.

    >> doreen , you were essentially it was a mutual decision between you and the company that you worked for?

    >> it was. i was actually relieved bh it all ended.

    >> you were vice president of marketing at citigroup so it is a pretty powerful job.

    >> it was. it was. with that came a lot of powerful experience. yeah. it was very stressful job. it was kind of at the height -- or beginning of a lot of the mortgage issues with the financial industry went through. so i think people got wind of the fact that maybe there would be layoffs and --

    >> why do you say you were relieved to be let go?

    >> i started to live. i really started to live. you didn't -- i didn't really have time to think about anything else except the job, like what i wanted to be when i grew up.

    >> you were on a treadmill or whatever it is.

    >> absolutely. you know you're moving but you're not going anywhere. so it was kind of a relief for me.

    >> but you ended up starting your own business, something very, very different from what you were doing.

    >> absolutely. you know, when you get lemons, you make lemonade. that's what i did. i started a company, we make satin pillowcases, botanical satin pillowcases for the anti-aging and hair care consumer. i love it. it's my passion. i'm broke but i'm happy.

    >> but you're happy. lee, have you a unique story. you were a real workaholic. working as is editor in chief of parade magazine . at 54, you're fired and it devastated you. you managed to take the bad news and turn it into something positive. how did you get to that point?

    >> when i took stock of my life i realized that in working so hard, i'd become disconnected from the people who mattered to me, mainly my family, my friends, and also from who i really was. i knew i had to do something. i had to do some work on myself. so i committed myself to a period of closing circles and making amends.

    >> one year you took of dealing with, as you put it, unfinished business .

    >> unfinished emotional and spiritual business. i thanked a teacher who i had changed my life and i never thanked. i paid a condolence call i never made. found a long-lost relative. i did all those things i let slip and in the process i found my truer, better self and really gained a tremendous amount of energy and compassion. as you say, passion for life.

    >> i think, though, in the case of these two people, they probably had the wherewithal financially to be able to do these things. not everybody is in that position.

    >> yeah, i think that's the real challenge. we're finding that an increasing number of older people are unemployed for a longer period of time so the duration is longer. and the financial impact can be significant. so now is the time to really be creative and look at ways --

    >> like doreen was.

    >> absolutely. and assessing where you are today and what you may want to do in the future.

    >> we thank you all for being here. when i told you in the break i read your book an it is very inspirational. it is wonderful. doreen motten, lee kravitz and deborah russell, thank you all so much.


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