I am quite proud of the fact that I quit high school after my sophomore year and took a job, at the age of 14, in a local car wash for $1 per hour.
At the time, my mom, a single mother who never earned more than $4 per hour or drove a car in her life, was struggling to raise three teenagers. When she came to me late in the summer before my junior year and said she would not be able to afford my school books, I told her not to worry about it; I said I would get a job somewhere and help out with the bills, which I did. I later attained my GED and went to college, earning a degree in Psychology.
Through all our hard times I managed to work, even during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when my long hair made me a social pariah to most employers. Those were bleak times, though, since even if I could do a job, I would be denied it because of my lifestyle. Fortunately, times and opinions changed and I was accepted. Never did I think I would face such prejudice again. Unfortunately, those times are here again.
I recently found myself out of work through no fault of my own (the company I used to work for is failing so I was laid off) and since that time, I have been having a great deal of trouble finding work even though my profession is in demand. At first I thought that maybe the problem was the economy, but that cannot be true since I was able to find work even during the darkest days of the Bush recession in 2007 and 2008. Now that the economy has improved, I naturally thought that it would be easy to find work again. How wrong I was. Prejudice is keeping me from finding a job in my chosen field, one where I have more than 12 years of experience.
I have thought about what forms this prejudice is taking and I have come to the conclusion that it is occurring in any or all of three ways.
First, I live in Southern California and I know that I have not been considered for many jobs I am completely qualified to hold because of the facts that I was born in America, studied in America, and developed the extensive vocabulary needed to be a published author. It turns out that I could get numerous jobs in America if I just learned a foreign language. But this is a minor prejudice compared to the next prejudice. I could learn a foreign language if I chose to, but I cannot get any younger no matter how much I would like to do so.
Second, I know that it is, supposedly, a crime to discriminate due to age in America, but just try to prove that a company is doing this. Without its coming out and saying so, that will never happen. What is more, the government is making it easy to find out how old you are. I will not discuss my age in an interview but often companies ask me to fill out an I-9 form prior to considering my application; and of course you have to put your date of birth on this form, so the company knows my age and can institute their prejudice accordingly. If it doesn’t require the filling out of an I-9, it uses another route to find out my age by asking me to provide information needed to conduct a background check even before offering me a job.
The information requested for this kind of check is enough to get your identity stolen: date of birth, Social Security number, driver’s license number, etc. I do not like to provide this information without a pending offer of employment since I don’t know who is going to see it. It could be that a company is fully reputable, but what about the employees who are working there? What if one of them has decided to start a lucrative sideline by selling personal information?
Yet if I don’t give this information, I am told I won’t be considered for a job; but if I do give it, I could be turned down because of my age. It is a real dilemma.
Another way a company can approximate your age is to require you to tell them the year you graduated from college. My degree in psychology should never go out of date but there is a great deal of difference to companies if I graduated in 1973 instead of 2003 —30 years of difference.
The third, and most illogical, reason for a company not hiring a person is because it does not want to hire the unemployed. Anyone interviewing an employed person during day time hours must ponder the question: If this person is here, how did he or she get the time off? Perhaps, the most common answer is by calling in sick so you have a person that you know is liar, perhaps a thief (for collecting sick pay), and an awful team member since someone else will have to carry the load while this one is out looking for another job. Yet that is preferable to someone out of work due to a layoff? Absurd is too nice a word for this behavior.
So now I am working as a part-time merchandiser for a very nice company. The people I work with and for are great; very hard-working and loyal, but the work does not pay much and it is sporadic so it is a struggle to pay the mortgage and buy groceries.
I just hope that companies come to realize the benefit of hiring seasoned workers. We are people who do not need as much training (if any) as someone who is new to a job. This fact saves the company money by avoiding costly down time.
But maybe that makes too much sense in America today.
John Darling is a resident of Ventura.