I just read an article in the Boston Globe, and it really resonated with me. No, it wasn't about politics or rock & roll or the media (the three subjects I most frequently read, and blog, about). The article was about what it's like to be considered "too old," in a society that worships youth, one that seems very conflicted about where Baby Boomers should belong.
Since I'm 71, I know from first-hand experience about the double messages that folks in their 60s and 70s receive. On the one hand, we're told it's never too late to take a course or support a cause. There are many politicians (including our current president and a number of members of congress) in our age group; there are also some popular 1960s and 1970s rock stars who still make new albums or even go out on tour. A number of popular actors and actresses are in that older demographic too. Jokes that mock older Americans for being senile or clueless are no longer staples of TV comedies, the way they used to be. And the word "elderly" has been replaced by a kinder euphemism, "senior citizen."
But on the other hand, we are constantly bombarded with images of attractive and photogenic young fashion models, product representatives, athletes, entertainers, and couples. Commercials aimed at the younger demographic are about life's many choices: new cars, new homes, new relationships, the newest devices. Contrast that with commercials aimed at the older consumer: most of them treat being older as a problem to be endured, or to be addressed with pharmaceuticals (or with products like Depends).
In the Boston Globe article, there's a 65 year old guy who hasn't been able to find full-time work since the recession of 2008-2009 cost him and so many others their jobs in the telecom industry. So, he works part-time at a coffee shop, much to his frustration. He feels like he still has a lot to give, and he keeps going out on interviews; but wherever he goes, the reaction is the same: the folks doing the interviewing are often much younger than he is, and they seem to feel he is too old to fit in with their company's corporate culture. (You can read the article here: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/06/14/help-wanted-but-not-from-older-workers-many-struggle-find-jobs-employers-post-openings/CIQgOC1AYXqlGIFtZWkcHN/story.html?)
As I said, I'm 71. Fortunately, I don't look it. And while I am not a technological wizard, I am fairly well acquainted with the newest products; I'm on social media regularly, and I'd like to believe I'm still capable of learning something new-- after all, I got my PhD when I was 64. But the guy quoted in the Globe story could easily have been me. I spent more than three decades in broadcasting, and when media consolidation occurred in the early 1990s, thousands of us, myself among them, lost jobs that we dearly loved. In my case, I had planned ahead: I was already doing some part-time college teaching, and when radio was no longer available to me, I reinvented myself as a college professor.
Getting my PhD was not easy; it took me nine years (I was teaching full-time as an adjunct professor, and then I drove 100 miles out to the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, where I took the courses I needed, a couple at a time). But I had the advantage of having been a broadcaster, as well as publishing several books and many articles. There were a few universities that looked beyond my chronological age and focused on my credentials and my skill-set. And while I do not make the kind of money I used to make, I am happy to have a regular source of income, and to get paid for teaching about something I enjoy-- media history and media analysis.
But if I had not been able to translate my expertise into a new profession, I too might be working part-time at a coffee shop. There's nothing wrong with that, of course; but the guy in the article has years of tech experience, and nobody will give him a chance to use it, or let him prove that he is up-to-date on today's technology. This seems like a waste of talent, and there are so many other people in his situation. While politicians love to brag about a good economy, the truth is that some folks are always left behind. In this case, many of the people left out are Baby Boomers, people in their 60s and 70s who still want to be employed, still want to make a difference, and are finding nothing but obstacles.
I understand that sometimes, it's necessary for older workers to step aside and give younger workers a chance to shine. But what about the older workers who love to work and genuinely feel they have something to offer? Should they be arbitrarily pushed aside? And what about the older workers who have financial problems and still need a regular paycheck? There are more of them than you might think. As for me, I'm glad that I can still bring in a paycheck; and at this point, I cannot imagine retiring. But I also understand that not everyone shares my desire to keep working. Conversely, I empathize with those who just want a chance, and nobody believes they should have one because they are perceived as "too old."
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