Thursday, September 17, 2009

Theme Thursday - Over the Hill

I know it was meant well, and maybe even meant to be humorous, but I can't find any humor in this week's theme. The standard interpretation of the phrase "over the hill" is - past one's prime, out of the loop, no longer sought after, no longer "useful". Those of us who are "over the hill" don't see ourselves this way, but our youth-obsessed society does, and this has serious consequences.

I'm 56 years old. As you can see from the photo to the left (my favorite self-portrait), I have a generous amount of gray in my hair. I have 30 years of experience in retail sales, 14 of those years in supervisory/managerial positions. But I've been unemployed for 22 months, and now my unemployment benefits have been exhausted, both the initial benefits and all the available state and federal emergency extensions, and the only further help I'm eligible for is food stamps. I'm up the creek without a paddle (to use another cliché), and why? Because my age and my experience are considered a hindrance rather than an asset.

I realize I probably can't prove that, but I can point out the obvious - that in retail (my chosen field) looks are as important as personality, and even though I can get customers to relax and laugh with me, the marketing experts say that customers are younger and don't relate to gray hair. I can point to several jobs I applied for that went to young people in their twenties, just out of school, who didn't have half the qualifications for those jobs that I had. But those people were younger, and the store owners could pay them less and offer less in the way of benefits than what my experience would earn.

And I haven't been looking just in retail; I've pretty much been trolling my skill set and seeing where else I can get a job - a batch photo editor job, shipping departments (after all, I was the "shipping czar" at the Dansk Factory Outlet here for 11 years), call centers... Hell, I've even applied for dishwasher and fast-food counter jobs. With no luck.

The problem is that our society no longer respects age and experience. Once you pass 50 you're less useful, even less visible, in a society obsessed with youth and drive and speed. We who are older are backwaters in the prevailing youth culture. And to a prospective employer we not only don't fit the image he/she is trying to project, but we're automatically assumed to require more money and benefits than they can get away with offering to younger, more gullible employees. There are plenty of kids and twenty-somethings looking for a job (in RI our unemployment rate is 12.7%), and they're cheaper to maintain than us "over the hill" types.

So here I am, at the end of my resources, trying to see if I can eke anything out of any of my skills, praying that maybe my attempts at exposure for my photography will draw some income soon, and hoping that comes before I lose my internet access because I can no longer pay the bill. And all because the society to which I've been an active contributor for the last 50-some years doesn't respect, in fact doesn't even recognize the experience and skills I've accumulated in my life, all because I've become "over the hill". So no, I'm not very happy with this week's theme!

Meanwhile, I still have that internet access, and I'll take advantage of it as long as I have it. Which means I haven't forgotten the usual feature of adding pertinent videos to my Theme Thursday post. I figured this week I'd feature older artists who still make great music.

Old and in the Way was a bluegrass group in the '70s made up of members of various California rock groups of the time. The band featured Jerry Garcia (banjo & vocals), David Grisman (mandolin & vocals), Peter Rowan (guitar & vocals), Vassar Clements (fiddle), and John Kahn (bass). They reunited in 2002, with Herb Petersen replacing the late Jerry Garcia and Bryn Bright replacing the late John Kahn. The album the reunion group released in 2002 was called Old and in the Gray. This song is from that album - "Land of the Navajo" with Peter Rowan's stunning Navajo-style singing in the middle.

Of course, when we think of the "elder statesmen" in the field of music, the first name on the list is Pete Seeger, 90 years old and still going strong. Here he is in 1993 at a sprightly 74, singing with Arlo Guthrie (who's definitely into "over the hill" status himself) and leading the crowd in singing "If I Had a Hammer".

Last but not least comes Mama Africa, the late, great Miriam Makeba. We lost her last November, but she was singing literally right up to the end of her 72 years - she died of a heart attack suffered while performing in Italy. Here she is on her triumphant return to South Africa with Paul Simon's Graceland tour, singing "Jinkel E Maweni". Enjoy!

Photo & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger


  1. Sorry to hear about your situation, Roy. Things are tough right now across ages lines. My son, in his fifth year of college, has many friends who graduated with great degrees last spring who are finding it nearly impossible to gain employment. Even more so for those of us over 50. Hang in there.

    On a lighter note, your new self portrait is wonderful!

  2. This grieves me and I wish it was not true. There is a bias with regards to age and it varies from time to time and field to field, but those that are descriminated against, through no fault of their own, are left, their capabilities, knowledge and/or experience untapped.

    I've read that your age group (and minorities) are two of the groups hit hardest by the recession.

    Nominally, I don't talk about the old days with anything approaching affection, but, when I read history, it is clear to me that older people, elders, used to be revered, respected, their wisdom and experience treasured, though more so in Easter culture than here. That's a very sad thing to lose.

    Perhaps it's because I was born old, but I often find myself of like minds to those decades older when many my own age seems completely indifferent to the lessons of the past. I'm lucky to work for a company that reveres experience (we have an employee in his 90's and many retirees from the aerospace field).

    I hope you find a job, my friend. Your wisdom and light would be sorely missed here and any employer would be lucky to have your skills, your dedication and your experience. If only they realized it.

    I treasure knowing you. I don't know if that helps, but it's what I have to offer.

  3. Roy, I know what you are saying. I'm 48 and got laid off in May after almost 18 years with Nike. It wasn't an age thing, it was a cost long-timers were too expensive what with our 7 weeks paid vacation, sabatticals and high salaries; all of which they still use to sell to the new recruits...which they'll also discard when they are too expensive. Times are indeed tough...hang in there!

  4. Roy it is terrible indeed. Who knows where this will all end? The young needing massive amounts of education to make up for their lack of experience who compete for the same jobs that the not so young but massively experienced...

    it seems that everyone is hurting...and how about the old who went back to school and still no job? Yes the government thinks that all those who are laid off from their jobs of 30 years can just go back to school and be good to go.

    There is a place for all. We need the young with their energy, ideas, enthusiasm and we need those not so young for their experience, their know how, their calmness of spirit.

    keep up the faith!

  5. Hi Roy. Mom is/was in the same boat( she's been legally blind for a while now and livin; on meagre disability, after being forced out of a job at 51 ). And even I( despite the training ), was shunned by my own government. I tried to apply for "Border Patrol" and was told 40 was too old....BS!!( even tho' they did raise the military enlistment age back up to 42 ). The government does discriminate!!!

    When I worked in the warehouse we had folks into their late '60's. As long as you could do the job, they didn't care about your age.

    I've also an aunt in Arkansas into her '80's now, and still working! So there is hope. The main problem is this wall that employers put up. It's illegal as hell, yet it continues. These "retirement" ages are a joke. If someone wants to work, let 'em. If it were my company, I'd hire you on, no problem. You've got the experience...a kid doesn't, right?

    Hoping you can find something soon and truly wish I could do something to help...

  6. oh roy, thank you for sharing your story it must to have been difficult. you situation is so damned unfair and alas so damned commonplace.

    it's easy to go off on a rant, but I will do you and your readers a favor and restrain myself

    I wish I had some magical words - but along with your other friends in the bloggyhood, I wish the best and will add my 'good vibes' to the cosmic stream and hope that something does come up SOON


  7. I think your portrait is QUITE distinguished. I am indeed sorry for your job predicament and wish not to hear similar stories every day! What a mess our nation in in...I wish you the best TODAY in your search.

  8. So sorry to hear it all, for you, for others like you and for people like me, not that far away from the same sad situation.

    My best to you. I really hope it turns around ASAP.

  9. Roy,

    Sorry to hear your story has taken this turn. I have been working part time the last 6 months myself as I seek full time employment again. Just this week I started looking for a second part time job. Times are indeed tough across the lines. Hoping that there is a surprise ending in sotre for you, or maybe thats just a new beginning.

  10. i am turning the corner so far as age is related myself, but so far the economy isn't affecting my job, or the qualified people--many over 40 and 50--who are doing the work. What I am seeing is the younger people don't really care about their company, and only work when they're being watched. Of course, companies these days don't much care about their employees either, so ...whatever. Good luck, i'm sure you'll find something.

  11. Oh, Roy. I don't know what to say.

  12. Roy as you can see there are many of us in the same boat. I'm 53 in October and still working on a casual basis after being retrenched due to this damn recession. I was like you, prepared to do anything and your story touched my heartstrings. I even got into the top two of three positions but was pipped at the post by a younger person. And your so right about discrimination, the place I have supposedly managed to secure a job is a Government Corporation but I'm still waiting to be 'approved'. It's uncertain times but your photography is wonderful and I urge you to keep looking, keep circulating and keep trying.

  13. Roy, Keep your chin up. Opportunity shows up at the weirdest times... chances are it will be in line with your visual art and musical talents... simply because that's what you want the most. -J

  14. I know it wouldn't be much ...and would take some effort to market on your part - but I was thinking that perhaps you might put some calendars together on lulu. Your photography is SO good - I would be happy to buy one for me (bugs/flowers/birds) and can think of lots of people I could give them to for Christmas as well.

    From what I've heard, Zazzle is stinking stupid expensive, but Lulu isn't so bad - might be worth a look.

  15. also, am wondering if you've tried signing up with temp agencies? My mom has had pretty good luck with them ... usually goes through a number of short term assignments but then finds a good fit and winds up staying. She's been at her current place for a couple of years now; a condo management office where she does bookkeeping.

  16. roy--keep your faith in yourself and your abilities alive --this recession is easing and the reality is that there are not enough educated experienced workers to fuel a recovery. Given your experience, you might want to look into was started as a resource for headhunters and has become a major professional networking tool. It is about six degrees of separation--who do you know who knows someone else?...great tool. I agree with other posters here that your photography and ability to write may also help you find a permanent position--how about volunteering with a not-profit or charity? Typically the boards and committees running theses organizations are comprised of business people. My best to you-C

  17. Hang in there, Roy. You're too smart of a guy for someone not to value you. Absolutely killer O&ITW video, BTW. Makes me want to pull out the CD. In fact, I think I will!

  18. I'd no idea things were so bad for you and RI. I want to be encouraging - but that 12+ % unemployment rate gives me chills. What you have going for you is keen intelligence,
    a personable nature, knowledge and perspective.

    Unemployment is around 8.5 % here - but there are so few jobs for us middle class "educated" people... it's sewing factories and chicken plants, good ol' boy networks, or the requirement of a doctorate. Nothing in between.

    I went from averaging $30/hr doing cabinet makeovers to making only a few dollars an hour for whatever services or artwork I manage to sell. And photography is an even harder place to earn income, as with the advent of digital cameras everyone and his cousin thinks themselves qualified.

    Every month I agonize over whether I can pay the mortgage and utilities and feed my critters. It's humiliating to be well-educated and have great skills and yet be invisible when it comes to marketing those things.

    I'm beginning to see the benefits of us "over-fiftysomethings" sticking together.

    My thoughts are for a positive happening for you.

  19. I'm with the group who is in your same boat.. laid off after 23 years with company. I will reinerate "What you have going for you is keen intelligence,a personable nature, knowledge and perspective." "Every week I agonize over whether I can pay the rent and utilities." "It's humiliating to be well-educated and have great skills and yet be invisible when it comes to marketing those things." I am 57 and too young to retire. I so wish I had words of widsom but I don't. I will keep you in my thoughts and hope good things come your way. ~Best to you, Holly