Jobless at the age of fifty

Fifty years old and out of work: A special report in last Sunday’s Greek edition of Kathimerini on people who have suddenly lost their jobs at the age of 50 is a reminder of something we often forget – that though generally the problem of unemployment is more acute among young people and the long-term unemployed, on an individual level it is an even greater hardship when it affects those over 45. For many people in this age group, losing one’s job means they are unlikely to find another. The middle-aged, who have families and expect high wages due to long service and bonuses, as well as being at a disadvantage compared to young people more familiar with new technology, are a burden for employers, not an asset. Most employers prefer to hire a younger, cheaper employee. So the heads of families are suddenly finding themselves faced with the risk of penury. Of course, this issue is not limited to Greece but it has been intensifying as public finances do not allow for generous policies, while in the private sector, there is not much respect for experience, only for youth. In the USA, during the recession before the Clinton presidency, when about 40,000 middle-management positions were lost, the observation was made that the market’s rejection of the middle-aged was not only linked to their salary levels or their lack of familiarity technology but with a general cult of youth in line with the fact that the modern economy is based on mass consumption, which depends to a great extent on young people. The new «look» was hostile to the middle-aged and elderly. Whatever the reasons, the result is that the jobless 50-somethings are facing permanent unemployment, something that has a plethora of negative repercussions, as these people have families and their own bad fortune limits the opportunities of their children. Greece is at a double disadvantage here, since it has neither fiscal margins for substantial policies of support nor has it developed any effective system for returning these people to the workforce. The times do not favor older people. Perhaps that is why unemployment among the middle-aged does not make headlines. However, if we wait until it does before doing something about it, it will be too late.