Editor's Note: Sometimes you find something posted on the Internet that tells your own story better than you could tell it yourself. A big thanks to my friend, Carole Hanisch for sending me the link to the article by Dave Johnson of Redwood City, California below. I was a professional computer programmer for twenty-two years in Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts before settling in California's so-called Silicon Valley just in time for the big crash of 2000. Only two things I can add. First, as an African-American with some 1960s consciousness, even during the boom years I was never seduced by that "USA! USA! We're Number 1 'cause the USA today is the best of all possible words!" baloney. Second, as a Green Party man I'm not blind to the political fact that so-called Silicon Valley is One-Party Democratic territory represented by Congresswomen Anna Eshoo (D-HP) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Cisco Systems) who could not care less and where two Silicon Valley big shots, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina are running for high office as Republicans vowing to "get tough" with "lazy" Americans who don't want to work.
Posted on Campaign for America's Future, July 7, 2010
Too Old For A Job, Too Young For Medicare Or Social Security
by Dave Johnson
Here is a fact: There. Are. No. Jobs. I'm in Silicon Valley where the official unemployment rate dipped in May to 11.2%. This dip was, of course, because of so many people just giving up trying to get a job, certainly not because of some wave of hiring. The underemployed figure, known as "U-6," is 21.7% in California, 16.7% nationally.
You have to know someone to get a humiliating job standing on a corner waving a sign. And if you are over 40, things are even worse than that. Don't give me any conservative Rush Limbaugh-Ayn Rand dehumanizing nonsense about parasitic lazy people who won't look—there are no jobs.
I know so many people here who are over 40, were laid off in the 2000-era dot com crash, still haven't found a regular job and aren't going to. They have had occasional "contract" positions—which means no benefits, no security, a 15% "self-employment" tax and no unemployment check when the job ends. And now, 10 years later they're a lot over 40 and are not going to find a job because so many employers here won't hire people over 40.
And now there are so many more who lost their jobs in the mass layoffs of 2008-2009 and can't find a job. So many of them are also over 40. In fact, many were laid off in obvious purges of over-40 workers, offered a small severance that they could only receive if they promised to take no age-discrimination action against the employer. (I don't say "company" because some of these worked at nonprofits.)
Most of these people will not find another job, but are too young for Medicare and Social Security.
One Person's Story
I ran into a friend this weekend who I hadn't seen for a couple of years. He had been a computer engineer who had been making 6 figures in the dot-com years. Laid off in the 2000 crash, he moved in with his parents back in the Midwest and worked in a bakery. He came back out here when things picked up a bit and worked in one "contract" job after another. (Contracting is just a scam to get around employment laws—but the government doesn't enforce the rules.) But now he just can't find anything. He managed to get unemployment but now that is running out. He has no health insurance. He can't afford a place to live; he "house sits" for people or visits friends, and doesn't know what he is going to do even two days from now.
What is he going to do? Can you tell me? He has gotten a few interviews, and when they are computer-related is always told he is way overqualified, doesn't seem energetic, probably won't be willing to work 20 hours a day, doesn't look like he is up to date on things that are happening with computers, etc. (How many ways can you say "too old?") He's about 45. If things pick up he will get another job. But people just a few years older will not.
Blatant Age Discrimination
Age discrimination is a thing with me because it is so blatant here. It's the culture here, some even say that for programmers it is "35 and out." At various times looking for work I've been told I "seemed tired" and things like that. I was even told once that I wouldn't be able to market some software because I "wouldn't be able to get my mind around" how it worked—when I had designed and written part of it in a previous life. One company here is said to have only 200 over-40 employees out of 20,000.
But it certainly is not a problem that only exists in Silicon Valley. Tell your own story in the comments, please, get this discussion going!
What are people supposed to do? You can't get Medicare until you are 65, and Social Security until 67. But it's near-impossible to get a job or health insurance if you are over 50. I wonder what the effect would be if the government started again enforcing its own rules on age discrimination and contracting.
Among other things Congress needs to get things going by passing the George Miller "Local Jobs for America Act."
Dave Johnson, a resident of Redwood City, California, is a Fellow at Campaign for America's Future, the Commonweal Institute and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Renewal of the California Dream.