Last week the WSJ ran an article: Bosses want hard workers–so they’re hiring older people.”
This cheery article was presented as an opinion piece by columnist Callum Borchers. I wrote a letter to the editor, but they have a tight word limit and don’t publish everything. So I wrote this article. I hope it’ll spark some discussion. If you’d like to communicate with the WSJ you can email them at email@example.com
The WSJ usually isn’t this ageist. During Covid an editorial noted that healthy older people would do just fine. A news article pointed out that age effects of Covid were not found in countries such as Mexico, with few nursing homes and sicker young people.
But on April 5, there it was: an article screaming ageism from the moment you see the headline:
Bosses Want Hard Workers – So They’re Hiring Older People.
(1) Bosses want workers who willing to settle.
The article opens with a quote from Kip Conforti,reportedly seeking to staff one of his two “package-shipping workstations.” He normally hires high school and college students, but he finds them unreliable. So, he figures, older people have a stronger “work ethic.”
Let’s get real. Motivated, hard-working young people have choices. If they want to ship packages, they might head for UPS or FedEx, where they benefit from advancement opportunities and probably better salaries and benefits. Older people don’t have a lot of choices, due to age discrimination and stereotypes. We’re comparing competent people who have few choices with equally competent people who are actively being recruited for a wide variety of good jobs.
Mindless dead-end jobs have always welcomed older workers. Want to be a greeter at a Big Box store? That’s considered a good job for someone who retired by choice or force.
Are any businesses seeking older people for competitive, stimulating jobs that pay market-level salaries and promise advancement and growth? Now that would be news.
The association of “work ethic” with aging reinforces a stereotype, like the association of “wisdom” and “saging” with getting older.
Some 25-year-olds are hard-working and wise; some 65-year-olds are lazy, selfish, and stupid.
Personally, I’d goof off all day if I were expected to put forth extra effort out of gratitude for being hired “at your age.”
(2) Another stereotype of older people and tech.
Mr. Conforti was described as “recruiting people who are more likely to carry AARP cards than the latest iPhone.”
Can you imagine a WSJ article referring to gay men as “more likely to have a ticket to a fashion show than a football game?” How did this get by the WSJ editorial team?
This statement isn’t even factually accurate.
A Pew study found that 61% of people over 65 have smartphones. The number is growing, partly due to cohort effects (as I explain in my book on aging stereotypes). If anything, that number probably underestimates usage: I suspect people with smartphones also resist taking surveys. Anecdotally, I don’t know anyone over 65 who can afford a smartphone but doesn’t have one.
AARP? I couldn’t find the percentage of members over 65. However, the total number of members – 38 million – has been published on websites (such as this one) and in Wikipedia. About 56 million Americans are over 65, according to this article in the Washington Post.
If everyone in AARP were 65 or older, then 68% of people over 65 would be members.
If two-thirds of AARP members were 65 or older, then less than half of all Americans over 65 would be members.
That’s not even getting into the increasing number of people who question AARP’s value.
It seems more accurate to say that the person over 65 is more likely to be carrying a smartphone than an AARP card.
Furthermore, associating AARP membership with age reinforces the notion of AARP as an inevitable accessory to aging. The truth is, many people are skeptical of AARP for good reason.
According to SeniorsMutual.com, AARP gets about 18% of its revenue from membership dues, but gets 58% of its revenue from royalties charged to other companies for the use of its name and logo.
An article in Kaiser Health News refers to “AARP’s Billion Dollar Bounty.”
Notes more specifically that AARP receives royalties from United Health Insurance, Oak Street Medical, and other services. Many people do not realize that AARP gets paid to endorse these services. Some mistakenly believe AARP endorsements mean AARP certifies their quality or makes sure they’re the least-cost option.
AARP has been attacked by both liberals and conservatives, including the WSJ, but for different reasons. For example, last November, the WSJ ran an article criticizing prices on AARP’s drug plan.
It’s a controversial organization and the specifics are way beyond the scope of this article.
Full disclosure: While AARP apparently does some good, I feel the conflict of interest disqualifies them from claiming to represent people over 50. I asked them to stop sending me promotional mail and they did.
(3) Expecting older people to work cheap.
Adding insult to injury, the article quotes one Ms. Laurel McDowell, who apparently heads up a program with Manpower Inc. to get more “mature workers.” It’s not clear what kinds of jobs they’re offering, but I suspect they’re not competitive jobs that pay market rates.
Ms. McDowell has the temerity to speak for her entire age group:
“We’re generally not looking for the next move,” Ms. McDowell says of her age cohort. “Frequently you can get us for a very reasonable cost.”
Willingness to “work cheap” is usually based on the lack of opportunities to work at market wages. And these days, a job applicant who’s over 50 – even over 65 – might be looking for reasons
Fortunately, more and more people over 60 have decided to forego relief from the courts in favor of a proactive stance. More and more are becoming entrepreneurs, where they can charge market rates and be valued for their skills, not their age.