“They see gray hair and they just write you off.”

So says Arynita Armstrong, 60, of Willis, Texas, who’s been looking for work for five years after losing her job at a mortgage company. “They’re afraid to hire you, because they think you’re a health risk. You know, you might make their premiums go up. They think it’ll cost more money to invest in training you than it’s worth it because you might retire in five years.” Armstrong is quoted in a front-page article in the Sunday New York Times about the recession’s toll on workers in their 50s and early 60s.


 Once out of a job, older workers have a much harder time finding another one. They’re more likely to have been laid off from industries that are downsizing, more likely to have some sort of disability that limits their options, and less willing, at least out the gate, to take a huge pay cut. So employers discriminate by hiring younger, cheaper people.


 “Not that they say any of this to your face,” adds Armstrong. Cheer up, Arynita, the Times found someone happy to tell it like it is: “It just doesn’t make sense to offer retraining for people 55 and older,” said Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas in Austin. “Discrimination by age, long-term unemployment, the fact that they’re now at the end of the hiring queue, the lack of time horizon just does not make it sensible to invest in them.”


So “discrimination by age” justifies ageism? Wow. Might the fact that people over 55 are human beings, not bald tires or buggy software, provide the slightest rationale for promoting a multigenerational workforce? By presenting Hamermesh’s opinion alone and unchallenged, by refusing to take a moral stance, the Times sanctions his poisonous position. Keep in mind that the economist is talking about people in their 50’s and 60’s, who can expect to live another at least another two to three decades, albeit not well. Though maybe they’ll conveniently die a little sooner: a recent study by economists at Wellesley College found that people who lost their jobs in the few years before becoming eligible for Social Security lost up to three years from their life expectancy, largely because they no longer had access to affordable health care.


 “If I break my wrist, I lose my house,” said Susan Zimmerman, 62, a freelance writer in Cleveland who works three part-time jobs and has pieced together a regimen of home remedies that she hopes will do the trick until Medicare kicks in. In order to hold onto her house she had to start taking Social Security benefits early, which means she’ll receive 30% less for the rest of her life than if she’d been able to hold off till age 66.


 In a grotesque attempt to end on an upbeat note, the article cites a 2011 study showing that people over 65 have historically lived longer during recessions, because “weak job markets push more workers into accepting relatively undesirable work at nursing homes, leading to better care for residents.” What does that say about the pre-existing standard of care at nursing homes? Is this the best our society can do for the fastest-growing segment of its population? 

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