Getting Worked

Steve Arnold reflects on his five years unemployed: “I might’ve went through my midlife crisis, questioning myself while I’m frozen here in the house.”

Steve Arnold has an impressive resume, showing promotions from territory manager to district manager to regional manager to national account executive. He served seven years in the U.S. Army with tours in Europe and Korea. He even got a degree in something relevant, a bachelor’s in business administration at Cal Poly.

What his resume doesn’t show: his long-term loyalty. There’s no indication he spent 27 years selling tires for Bridgestone, eventually managing national fleet accounts and making major sales to trucking clients like Ryder, which purchases about 500,000 tires annually.

That impressively long stint would give away his age: 67.

“That’s one of the tricks,” Arnold says. “My resume doesn’t include any dates, so somebody can’t say, ‘He’s 67 years old, what the hell?’ I’m trying to qualify on my merits.”

That’s not been easy in a marketplace Arnold has found discriminates against older people.

Along with 65 other Bridgestone workers, Arnold’s position was eliminated as the Great Recession took hold in 2008. “I was one of those casualties,” Arnold says. “I was a little offended. You want to go out on your terms.”

Business also slowed down for his wife, who’s in real estate; the couple sold their Pebble Beach house and moved into a rental property they owned in Pacific Grove. The subsequent five years were tough, as Arnold sent out dozens of resumes into the abyss and signed up for unemployment benefits. I got mad, thinking, ‘Is it me or my age?’”

Chances are, it was his age.

Pat Coniglio, who’s spent her career as an employment agent, knows it first-hand. “Say I had five people walk in, all under 40. Then someone extremely qualified, well-dressed and who presented beautifully came in, and they were over 55. I ignored them,” she admits.

“It was a fact. It’s discrimination, it’s real and it’s against seniors.”

Coniglio didn’t realize this until she got antsy four years into retirement. “I noticed my contemporaries were bored and poor,” she says.

To occupy herself, she launched Nu-Age-Employment, serving clients ages 55 and up, last year. But Coniglio, now 71, had no idea what she was getting into.

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“It has been an uphill battle,” she says. “The odds are not good here, and that’s not because I don’t have the people. It’s age discrimination.”

She charges a tiny fraction of the placement fees she used to – $200-$300 instead of $1,500-$2,000. She’s had 80 clients so far and placed 15 – not quite the success rate she hoped for, but it’s made her that much more determined.

“I thought this business would be great and helpful, and now it’s become a cause,” she says.

And it’s a worthy cause. “From a macroeconomic perspective, increased participation of older people in gainful employment is essential for future prosperity,” according to 2011 report by the Joint Academy Initiative on Aging.

Kellie Morgantini, director of Legal Services for Seniors, says ageism in the workplace is real – and based on false assumptions. “I think it’s a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge by employers,” she says. “There are always benefits and threats for any age group. They just have different things going on.”

An older employee might not be as comfortable lifting heavy boxes all day long, for example, but they’re probably less likely than younger workers to relocate, go back to school or start a family.

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