We live in a throwaway society and it is a sad fact that the first to be tossed in the pursuit of profit are people. And the most disposable people of all are workers over the age of 50. Unemployment figures show that workers over the age of 50 are not only the first to go, but they remain out-of-work longer than their younger peers and have a much harder time finding new work. If and when they are rehired, it is often for part time and sub-par jobs than those they previously held.
Ageism is a pervasive, equal opportunity discrimination practice. Unlike sexism, racism, creedism, and every other ‘ism, every worker on the planet eventually becomes a victim. We are all going to be there sooner or later. If you are already there (as I am), you know what I am talking about. Odds are you have felt the sting of downsizing, outsourcing, reorganization, re-engineering, and old fashioned firing. If you’re not there yet, your time is coming – and sooner than you think.
There is no stopping Ageism, even in an enlightened society, because it is the most insidious form of discrimination. Sure, there are laws on the books to protect aging workers, but there are so many subtle ways to subvert the laws that enforcing them is practically impossible. The number of complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has skyrocketed, but aside from a concerted effort to correct the stereotypes and misconceptions about aging workers, nothing much can be or ever will be done about it. Why?
Because Ageism is also powered by the laws of supply and demand. Anyone who knows anything about economics knows that this is an indisputable law. There are simply too many people who need to be or want to be in the workforce, than there are corporate jobs that pay a living wage. Technology and self-serve automation are eliminating those jobs at a faster pace than ever. If you think your employer is going to spare you, or the government is going to protect you, you are deluding yourself. Today’s brilliant programmers, designers and sales stars are tomorrow’s has-beens.
There is only one solution to Ageism and that is entrepreneurship.Fortunately, we are living in the age of entrepreneurship. Never in the history of the world has it been easier or cheaper to start and fund a business. The know-how is everywhere – universities, accelerators, incubators, online courses and blogs; federal, state and government agencies – all plying startup know-how. Most businesses today have a world-wide audience by default, including your local tee-shirt shop. There is no limit to the number of customers, vendors, partners and team members. They can live anywhere…work anywhere…buy anywhere. If you understand the concept of a business without boundaries, you can always create a job and make a living for yourself.
Obviously, many people have already figured this out. According to Kauffman, Gallup, and other organizations, the biggest increase in new business starts is by people over the age of 50. In fact, people over 50 are twice as likely to start a business as those under the age of 30. When I ran the first Startup Quest program in South Florida, the average age of the participants was 53 and all of them had a master’s or doctorate degree. Much has been written about the 1099 economy. 35% of people in the U.S. now work for themselves and that number is expected to grow to 50% by 2020. Think about that…. two of every four workers will no longer be W2 employees (working for the man) in a few short years.
Yes, the numbers and the facts bear it out. Entrepreneurship is the only answer to the vexing problem of Ageism. In my next post, I will outline some strategies and provide some resources for people over 50 to transition from the corporate workforce into a startup or self-employment. Stay tuned…