Is there a need for age-based affirmative action?

Photo credit: Creativa, Shutterstock
Photo credit: Creativa, Shutterstock

It isn’t easy for job seekers over the age of 50, and there are plenty of articles offering advice for conquering the “age factor.” While there is career advice available for any and all job seekers, many argue that those looking for work after 50 have a different experience than their younger peers.

We attempted to offer some support to older job seekers, stating that they might not necessarily need a different approach when on the job hunt. A reader left the following comment:

It’s interesting that age-based affirmative action programs are virtually non-existent compared to those targeted at women and minorities.

What do you all think? Is there a need for age-based affirmative action programs? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Social Media and Editorial Intern at

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    • Jason
    • October 21, 2013

    Over 50? I’ve found the job market impossible, and I’m not even 40 yet!

    • Samantha
    • October 21, 2013

    As a 46 year old who has been out of work, not counting a contract job for 6 months, since 2009, something most definitely needs to be done.

    1. I’m 64 and I’ve been out of work for over 4 years. I’ve got 20 years of graphic design experience and I’ve done medical illustrations. I participated in a retraining program for web development, but we just touched on a lot of things. I’d be interested in school to spend more time learning these things, but I don’t want to take out a student loan at my age. I’m learning on my own. This web thing is a young person’s thing. I didn’t grow up with these things and it seems like graphic design has added some of this to jobs. I go back to pasteup. I’d like something to happen. I network some. There should be something for older people

        • Chris
        • October 22, 2013

        Hi Jack:
        I am 55 and served as publisher of a community newspaper (part of a large chain) for 26 years and was “downsized” 18 months ago. I originally started at the paper as a paste-up artist and worked my way “up”. I have had only two “in-person” interviews over the past year. I have interviewed with a computer, taken the online Apogee test and even had to make a YouTube video for an employer explaining why I was the “right” applicant for the job. I know it is so demoralizing! Every facet of the online application process seems to be designed to keep the employer and prospective employees apart.
        If you are not yet proficient in Adobe inDesign and Photoshop, you should be able to find an affordable online course. Most employers that are seeking Marketing Artists expect these skills and often expect you to be savvy in WordPress or Dreamweaver to manage/write their blogs as well. Many employers seem to be seeking Marketing/Editorial/Design skills all wrapped up in just one person these days.
        You might consider volunteering for one of your local non-profits (especially one that creates a quarterly print newsletter or an annual report) so that you can volunteer and those jobs and show them what you can do. Hopefully this would get you useful contacts and some positive referrals for freelance work. Best of luck to you!!!!

      • Dee
      • October 22, 2013

      Yes, absolutely. It’s a shame that companies don’t see what a valuable resource that demographic is. Many of them think that by hiring a younger person they will have that employee around a lot longer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most 20 somethings will change jobs a minimum of 5 times during their career. That company that hires them out of college is just spending a ton of money to train them so that they can put it on their resume then give the company the dueces. Wake up folks 50 is the new 30.

    • Doria Kalt
    • October 22, 2013

    What is really needed is education for younger managers who think that anyone over 50 (and possibly 40) is old and no longer useful. It’s like the old poster that read “Teenagers, leave home now, while you still know everything.” I like to say that they don’t even know what they don’t know. Companies are missing out on the experience of people who have been in the business world for decades and have so much to impart. The excuse is that older people aren’t tech savvy and are resistant to change. That may be true for some but for myself, I have taught myself almost every computer program that I use.

    • Deborah Carville-Welton
    • October 22, 2013

    I, too, have been out of work for over 4 years…due to layoffs. There is definitely an age bias..coated in words of ” you’ve been out off the work force for too long..” During the four years, I have volunteered, done internships and written materials for one company to use, so I don’t have work force experience? When I was working, I was in every day, on time and was rarely sick. I look for jobs where “maturity ” is an asset. Both so called young people and old people have talents to exchange but it can only happen once you get past the superficiality and myths of “old age.”

    • Marc Levin
    • October 22, 2013

    I am 67. I think existing legal protections for overt discrimination on the basis of age are appropriate. I think the more urgent problem is the series of economic policies (ex. recent foreign trade bills, laws that constrain the re-emergence of a strong labor movement, pitifully low minimum wages laws) that contribute high unemployment and wage disparities between privileged white adult males on the one hand (like me), and, on the other. women and people of color. We need a full employment law like HR 1000, re-introduced for the umpteenth time by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) that also would adequately train people for important work.

    • Richard Slone
    • October 22, 2013

    I’m 64 years old and have been looking for a job for the past 3 years. I’ve had a number of interviews and vast experience and excellent references. I refuse to dye my hair or do cosmetic things to make me look younger. It is quite obvious to me that I’ve been discriminated against because of my age yet there is nothing I can do to prove that. As the baby boomers reach retirement age and with less retirement funds available this will be a serious issue in the very near future. We are being squeezed with less benefits on the one side and job discrimination on the the other should we choose to work in order to support ourselves as we age.

    1. I’m 64 years old too. Might you want to talk about how to prove the value of learning to age gracefully? Our society needs more grace. Perhaps that’s what you and I have to offer that can come with aging in the face of a society that worships youth. It sounds like you refused to go along with the crowd and as a result may have endured discrimination akin to what I’ve endured. I’d like to share stories and see what might come of our sharing. Being squeezed from a conformist tube of toothpaste launched me into freedom beyond the tube. I do need to produce income to support myself throughout my life. Might you be interested in talking about how we can produce income in ways not subject to being squeezed from all sides and instead are free to expand because we meet needs not yet adequately addressed? In an era in which a lot of people are being squeezed out of their former comfort zones, teaching people how to be free, flexible, resilient and transformed into their next version of life has income-earning potential.

    • Deborah
    • October 22, 2013

    I agree with the comments. We are squeezed between not getting the jobs and having government programs that are supposed to provide a safety net being threatened with more cuts. There is a great need for a high level dialogue about this issue and some government action would not hurt either.

  1. Businesses assume experienced workers will not want the salaries being offered or will jump ship as soon as a higher paying opportunity comes along. At a recent seminar, a recruiter stated that younger workers leave jobs within 2-3 years and have a higher absentee rate statistically. I think that older workers will be discriminated against regardless of the law because discrimination is difficult to prove.

      • Dee
      • October 23, 2013

      I think you are right that discrimination is hard (if not impossible) to prove. It’s for this reason that I feel an affirmative action policy would be appropriate. If companies have to have a certain percentage of their employees over 40 it would force them to look at that pool of applicants. I do fear, however, that they would probably fill those spots with the lower paying positions. I could only hope that if they brought these employees on board and saw their energy, talent, willingness to learn new applications, and strong work ethic some of the older workers would move up to the higher paying spots.

    • ALA
    • October 22, 2013

    I’m hoping you plan to engage experts — both people who study and those who live this experience — to cover this topic. The comments indicate a need that I can confirm from my observations as a 40-something on the market myself watching how slightly older peers struggle even more. I’m not sure that affirmative action will be enough — aa is a long term social change strategy that has been gutted and attacked as certain USAmericans reclaim discrimination as a middle-class privilege and strategy for upward mobility. In other words, age discrimination is real and wrong, but the problem is deeper. We need to value workers, dignify all kinds of work with living wages and benefits, and develop industries that cultivate the skills of elders. If the internet is a young thing, as the graphic designer mentioned, perhaps we need some intergenerational dialogue about “old” things we value.

  2. Of course there’s need for affirmative action to offset the bias rampant in society that getting old is a disease to be avoided at all costs. However, it’s not up to society to pass laws to force others to recognize and accept the value older adults offer to society. It’s up to us older adults to affirmatively demonstrate our value as an indisputable fact. We have to stop pretending that our future awaits in competing with younger adults for employment in the existing economy where short-term outcomes count most and instead co-create extensive new enterprises in which we are an essential element to achieving success in the long run as well as the short run. If all we do is continue to repeat our past ways, all we’ll produce is the same outcomes, outcomes in which more mature adults are irrelevant because society has become shortsighted. (By the way, I don’t assume that every older adult is also a more mature, wiser adult, but among the older ones there may be the more mature, wiser ones.)

    The currently dominant, mostly Westernized, materialistic, monetary profit-driven-and-measured culture worships youthful bodies and sets up endless competitions among the young 1) to avoid having to face the realities of life that include decline and ultimately death of bodies and 2) to avoid having to admit that learning to cooperate and create a society based on peace and love is the most important issue on the world’s agenda. The ego does not like to be honest about its limitations and lack of competence in areas of authentic living, peace and love. Egos identify with bodies as if we are nothing more than separate bodies and then egos make any slightest variation from social ideals of a “perfect (swimwear model’s) body” that is youthful forever some sort of failure — a sign of decline that makes us totally useless and thus logically ignorable and disposable. Are we older adults wise enough to depart from the ego’s paradigm and demonstrate its fallacies instead of trying to climb back on board its fool’s bandwagon?

    We place far too much value on bodies’ remaining statically the same (and on preserving the social status quo) and too little value on what’s going on inside our hearts and minds where developmental, evolutionary change means personal maturity, richer creativity, courage to face life’s toughest issues and a natural desire to leave a lasting legacy for future generations. Youth are not focused on leaving a legacy and expend their energies until they fall exhausted, whether the goals towards which their energies are directed are wise or foolish. Was that not so with most of us when we were younger? Being part of the scene and not left out of the action matters most at earlier stages of life.

    We who have reason to be wiser may be ready to move beyond our addiction to social approval and forge together a more sustainable society in which Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideals of being judged by the content of our characters will prevail. Does any among my age peers want to be so bold and demonstrate the lasting value of the ideals we claim to honor? Do we have the content of character of which MLK Jr. spoke?

    With experience, come deeper insights, wisdom, more meaningful forms of satisfaction and other enriching qualities of life – and character content enriched by experience. But experiences are hard to acquire without getting older too. In a modern society that worships novelty, the latest innovation and everything instantaneously gratifying, the patience and wisdom of maturity’s pace of life may seem obsolete. There it is obsolete. The rat race has no place for us. So, is it time to band together to co-create an alternative to the rat race?

    To which race do we belong – rat race or human race? For lack of experience from which wisdom may be drawn, many but not all of the young lack the vision to see the alternative clearly. Do we still lack that vision? Do we lack the courage to live by a more mature vision? Why do we allow a declining modern society to continue to dictate the terms of our lives as if we don’t have the power to create an upwardly rising alternative into which all are welcome, even the young, the youthful and others who are afraid of being left out in the cold?

    Perhaps it’s time to stop fighting over whose turn it is to be favored by the law and stop asserting our civil rights. Let’s co-create a culture in which everyone is favored based both on the merits of their contributions and the content of their characters and in which we all voluntarily exercise our civil responsibilities instead of demanding our civil rights. Visit if you’re interested in learning more about my invitation to co-create together such a culture of peace in the face of a culture of violence.

    • Mary
    • October 22, 2013

    Yes, we do need affirmative action for older workers.I am 61 years old and have been searching for a job for almost 2 years. I never thought that I would ever be in this position. I have never had any problem finding a job in the past, and I know that age discrimination is the barrier that I am failing. I am very qualified with great education and exoerience. I actually had a thirty something manager tell me that they did not have any age diversity on their staff and thought I might be uncomfortable with the rest of the team. I really don’t know what to do anymore. I have sent hundreds and hundreds if resumes, etc. My savings are gone. If I don’t get a job soon, I will be living out of my car with my framed BA,MA, JD packed in the trunk of the car. What a waste!

    I am an intelligent, resourceful woman and I have run out of ideas. I need help with this and there is nowhere to turn. The people at Unemployment office saw the binder of jobs that I have applied for and told me it is clearly my age and said I could try parking cars with a valet service????? I am not proud, but I just can’t do that.

    I am very sorry that I voted for Obama because this is thhe worst economy I have lived through and there is no discussion of how to improve job growth!!! None.

    • Gordon
    • October 23, 2013

    Job hunting is tough at any age. I think communities need to do a better job of understanding the needs of all the employed and reaching out to them. Job hunters need to be flexible, keep learning and adapt to the changing realities of the marketplace. Life is about learning and improving. Singling out one group is not a good idea. We are all in this together.

    • Maria Thompson
    • October 25, 2013

    If “affirmative action” was such a great deal, being a Afro-Caribbean, Hispanic female with a hearing aid would make me the “J. Lo” of job fairs. Reality is that it has never worked that way in the 30 years I’ve been in the job market. What I am finding is that a BS from a top business school, masters, CPA, and CFA no longer offset being 55 years old.

    What would break open doors all over the place is requiring all public companies to publish the EEO-1s they file with EEOC in their 10-Ks along with reports summarizing all the data (they swear their not reading) that they collect with applications with a comparison of actual hiring. Doing this, and adding age to the “demographics” collected would shine light on the nastiness that is still “business as usual” in the job market.

    Let the patterns of good hiring and/or discrimination hang out for all to read. As long as the companies can do whatever they want and hide it in a government file cabinet far from the scrutiny of investors or customers who could decide if they like the conduct of firms enough to buy their stocks or merchandise.

    • Sheila
    • August 5, 2014

    I think there is room for age based affirmative action, particularily given the trend for recruiters and hr to rely on online social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn) to hire. There is no way to tell how much ageist based discrimination happens as a result of these practices, but they make it so easy to do without any consequence whatsoever. As a result I shudder every time I read another HR blog exhorting how essential social media is for job hunting.

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