We, the Wretched Refuse (a.k.a. BRILLIANT, TALENTED UN/UNDER EMPLOYED)

Growing up in southern England, I was exposed to all the myths and rumors about life in America. Everybody had at least two cars, lived in large houses or apartments, and citizens seemed ageless. And had really good dental care. The few Americans I had met (relatives) confirmed my elders’ amazement at how brash, naive and full of themselves, these people from the New World could be. Like overbearing children, it was as if they had some inalienable right to expect the best of everything, without hardship, trampling over the tradition and niceties of an older, perhaps more sedate homeland.

But I made the crossing anyway – all the way to New Amsterdam (New York City).

That was 30 years ago.

Now, I am experiencing the dark-side, the rarely talked about age-phobia of this industrious country.

Being 50-something, I had expected to be fully-employed in a secure job, having accumulated an impressive career in public relations, even if I was looked upon as an elder by those I mentored. I certainly don’t look “old.”

But I am a product of the shifting sands of job security. Laid off, a health-care burden for potential employers (even though I am perfectly healthy), and … sin of all sins … I refuse to dye my hair.

I’ve probably made mistakes in my career. Working for peanuts at a nonprofit, believing a job will last when actually there was a one-year contract clause that I missed in my excitement.

I have always loved the jobs I’ve had, and there’s the rub … I had to love my work because I would not do so well if I didn’t enjoy or care about something I was spending 40+ hours doing every week.

I am not alone in this dilemma of experienced workers cast aside for cheaper, younger employees.

According to a 2013 report from AARP (be aware, I am not endorsing this organization’s political agenda)

“At 6 percent, the January 2013 unemployment rate for the workforce aged 55 and over was little changed from December or January 2012.

“Nearly 2 million people aged 55 and over were unemployed in January 2013, also little changed from December, but 115,000 more than the previous January.

“Average duration of unemployment for older jobseekers fell sharply from 51.3 weeks to 42.2 weeks between December and January. Average duration of unemployment was 56.1 weeks in January 2012.”

I am certain that the average duration of unemployment does not reflect the real story. How many people gave up looking for a job? How many are still unemployed? Who tracks those numbers?

Unemployment across the U.S. is about the same in Europe, between 7-8 percent, with the exception of Germany, which is a little lower. Canada is doing better than us.

America has changed. But so has my other home. Yes, the United Kingdom still has generous vacation allowances (average: four weeks), and a fairly intact safety net for those struggling to make ends meet. We have child benefits, unemployment benefit, free housing, free universal healthcare, working tax credit, disability allowance, bereavement benefit, and many others. Nearly all of these benefits can be claimed for an unlimited length of time. A family of three, for example, could quite comfortably live off the state their whole life without ever working. France, Germany and the Scandinavian countries have even more extensive social safety nets.  Is that sustainable?


Check out The Urban Institute’s page on longterm unemployment