Forty years ago this was a very different America. It used to be when an employee faithfully worked hard for a company for twenty-five years or more, a retirement party would be thrown in recognition of the employee’s efforts and contributions. Sometimes, the officers of the company rewarded this individual with an expensive watch or other gift as a form of appreciation and a fond farewell. The employee would then retire with dignity and satisfaction.
Those days are fading. Instead, a disturbing trend has taken over America that affects morale and destabilizes society. More and more, older employees that are only a few years shy of retirement are being let go. No party. No appreciation. Often, they are escorted out the door. And that’s just the beginning of the turmoil these individuals face.
Many still have mortgages, children in school, and other major expenses. They eventually lose their health care benefits, which often makes proper medical care unaffordable. Unemployment is a fraction of their previous salary and only lasts for so long. Thus, loss of income from employment can put these older employees and their families in financial straits. Unfortunately, that’s not all.
Many companies advertising open positions often subtly or not-so-subtly practice age discrimination. “You’re overqualified,” interviewers tell them when they apply for a comparable job. Of course, what they are really saying is they don’t want to pay older and experienced people what they’re worth. As a result, older workers looking for a new position face substantial hurdles added to the difficulty of finding a good-paying job. Often older workers settle for minimum wage jobs when their unemployment runs out just so they can pay their bills.
And lest we forget, the psychological effects of workers losing their jobs, particularly when they expected they would be working for the same company until retirement, are often profound: depression, feelings of failure, and lack of direction now that they don’t have somewhere to go every day. Arguably, people are the healthiest if they feel they are productive, making contributions to society, and providing for themselves and their loved ones. Added to that, those reentering the labor market after twenty-five years or so encounter an entirely changed job market and application process, which only heightens their stress.
These “forced retirements” destabilize not only the older workers’ lives but also those closest to them. They have to scale back their lifestyle and now struggle with paying their bills. Some lose their homes and must find a less expensive place to live. Their families or significant others must endure these cutbacks, college plans can be derailed, they must dig into their nest egg, and they’ll have less funds for their future plans when they thought they were going to retire.
Who benefits from letting older workers go? Companies may enjoy more profits in the short term: younger workers expect lower salaries. For instance, the pay scale of recently graduated teachers are half that of much more experienced educators. However, resentment for these inhumane practices will linger and putting older workers in financial straits will likely lead to serious repercussions to the nation’s economy in the long-term. In other words, greedy behavior may lead to benefits in the short run but will eventually backfire on them.