Victim Blaming by the New York Times

NYTThe headline in a recent New York Times story was: “To Get a Job in Your 50s, Maintain Friendships in Your 40s”

Sounds promising,right? Well, there are some problems with the headline and the story that follows.

  1. The article’s  thesis –  that networking with younger workers will eradicate the ravages of age discirmination in the workplace – is at best unrealistic at worst silly.
  2. The Times misrepresents the findings of the actual study.

The conclusion of the study, a meta-analysis of existing studies called Age and Reemployment Success After Job Loss: An Integrative Model and Meta-Analysis, is as follows:

“Our findings provide evidence for a negative relationship between age and reemployment status and speed across job search decade, world region, and unemployment rate, with the strength of the negative relationship becoming stronger over age 50. Job search self-efficacy and job search intensity partially mediate the relationship between age and both reemeployment status and speed.”

The Times could have focused upon the main finding of the study, which confirms that older workers are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the long-term unemployed. The study found that job seekers over age 50 were unemployed 5.8 weeks longer than those from the ages of 30 to 49 and that number rose to 10.6 weeks when the comparison group was from 20 to 29.  It appears that younger workers find jobs much more quickly than older workers and the younger the better. Instead of focusing on this clear evidence of age discrimiination in hiring, the Times chose to focus on the second finding, which it then mischaracterizes.

The authors say that  some – not all – of the disparity in the time it takes older and younger workers to find new jobs can be mediated by  “self-efficacy and job search intensity.”  Hence the authors’ use of the word “partially.” This is a glass half full kind of thing.

How much age discrimination can not be mediated by “self-efficacy and job search intensity”?

And what does “partially mediate” really mean?  If older workers demonstrate so-called self-efficacy and job search intensity, can they expect the disparity in hiring between older and younger workers to be reduced by a day? A week? A month?

Finally, how “intense” does an older worker’s job search have to be to achieve the desired intensity? Should be they be as intense as a car salesperson who works on commission or go full-Rambo?

The article quotes one of the authors of the study, Prof. Connie R. Wanberg of the University of Minnesota  as stating that age discrimination is only “sometimes” the cause of joblessness for older workers. She states “the reality is that the behavior required to find work does not play to many older people’s strengths. Once they become aware of this, they can act to compensate.”

Many would argue that “older people’s strengths” vary with each individual and are not age-driven.

That’s like saying Chicago gang members would have jobs if only they would make friends with affluent suburban white people.

News flash: age discrimination is real. Many research studies show that when employers are confronted with two equivalent resumes, by a younger worker and older worker, the employer invariably hires the younger worker. Plus, employers today are brazenly advertising for “digital natives” and “recent college graduates,” the vast majority of whom are under the age of 40.  Older workers can’t get jobs when they can’t apply for jobs.  Moreover, employers lack  the same incentives to treat older workers equally. Federal law provides far less protection against age discrimination than discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, color and religion. And the Obama administration has essentially green-lighted age discrimination in the workplace.

The real question is why has the New York Times, which is also known as the Grey Lady, resorting to this tripe?

Is it purely coincidental that a former Times ad executive recently filed a lawsuits accusing the Times of age and race discrimination in a 2013 downsizing that resulted in the layoff of 30 employees who were mostly older, minority group members.  In almost every case, she alleges, the employees were replaced with white employees under the age of 40.

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Author: pgb

Attorney at Law, author and blogger.

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