BUZZFLASH GUEST COMMENTARY
I have a friend my age (56) with impeccable credentials: She has a Master's Degree; 18 years experience as a successful college administrator; glowing recommendations; she shows up for work every day and is hardly ever sick; she's a team player and works selflessly for whomever she's employed by.
She also has a pre-existing medical condition (as does virtually everyone by the time they reach 50).
Therefore, she is almost completely unemployable by American companies.
Well, not quite. Store clerk jobs, entry level temp jobs, manual data entry jobs, real estate and consulting jobs are all available to her -- as long as they don't offer benefits.
In this experience my friend is like virtually every other 50+ year old. Unless we make a company a couple hundred thousand a year, increased medical premiums make us too expensive to hire.
When a job offers benefits -- like, oh, say, every single job that her many years of successful service qualify her for -- by the end of the training period, employers find that she's just "not quite right for the job," that they were looking for a different kind of experience, and gosh darn it if every person who replaces her isn't about 25 years old with virtually no experience.
However, these 25-year-olds hold one credential my friend will never hold again. They have clean medical records and, at their age, they don't make insurance companies nervous and they don't increase a company's group rates.
I had a similar experience. After 4 ½ years with a national telecommunications company and the year after I was one of the regional sales leaders, I had a third two-day circulatory problem that landed me in the hospital. When I returned, instead of concern or some assistance in helping me get back on my feet, suddenly everything I'd been taught to do by my company was wrong, and I was suddenly being written up again and again for providing the same exceptional customer service I'd received awards for the previous year -- and, within five months, I was out of a job.
My experience was not rare. A colleague in another store, who'd been recognized multiple times for technical competence, outstanding customer care, and high sales, was out within six months when it became apparent that he was going to need hip replacement surgery.
Shortly thereafter, I got a job at an unionized insurance company with 2,300 employees. They were a good company and took good care of their salespeople, but they also had five top producers in their 50s who had cancer and, as a result, they could no longer offer the rest of us insurance because those five people with cancer produced an average monthly insurance premium of $800 a month for every one of the company's employees.
Fortunately, I now work for myself and, after a couple years of struggle, I'm doing just fine, but I did have an unholy battle to find health insurance and I'm lucky to have found some insurance in a public plan that I can afford. But many of my friends are not so lucky, and most are just trying to hang on until Medicare kicks in when they are 65. Most of us will probably make it; some won't because for too long they will have avoided the cost (and the premium increase) that would have come if they had sought prompt medical attention.
So here's the dilemma: There are increasing numbers of 50 and older workers who cannot find good paying jobs commensurate with their successes and credentials because of the cost of providing them with health care. So what do they do instead?
With No Insurance, Unemployed Workers Can:
1. Retire early. If there's some small pension out there, such as one from the government or the military, it's easier to retire than to keep fighting for a job when your health insurance costs make employers unable to hire you.