Age Discrimination?

A 60-year-old draftsman kicks off a long exchange about age, employability, and fairness. April 13, 2010

I have been continuously employed for the last twenty years as a freelance draftsperson who specialized in the production of shop drawings for architectural millwork and cabinetry. Practically all of the shops in my area, with whom I had a relationship, have been having a very difficult time because of the economy.

Since late January of 2009 I have had very little work, which is a new experience for me. I will be sixty years old in 10/09 and have been vigorously searching for work during the past five months without any success. Applications for drafting jobs that I am totally qualified for generally do not elicit any response whatsoever. On the one occasion that someone did explain why I was not hired, they said, "We have decided to hire someone with a different skill set than yours who just needs a little bit of training and fits within our budget." In other words, I asked for too much money and was too experienced, which I believe is often code for age discrimination.

I have researched all aspects of this topic on the internet and have adjusted my resume and pricing as per guidelines that I found for workers over forty years of age. I have also found, and will attend, several in-person workshops in my area that address the problems of the older worker. Today (8/30), in the NY Times style section, there is a very depressing story about this exact subject which focuses on a fifty eight year old man who is trying to deal with the extraordinarily high rate of unemployment among older workers. I also learned that the burden of proof is on the employee and that successful age discrimination suits are few and far between. I also learned that this type of discrimination is the last remaining type that is still somewhat acceptable in the US. Perhaps there are some of you out there who have experienced age discrimination and would want to comment.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor R:
I think your concern is valid, as I have been experiencing the same thing. I think that employers are more inclined to hire someone younger, especially if they have any type of health insurance program. It is usually fairly easy for an employer to tell your approximate age by the years of experience you claim in an application. I hesitate to admit that I have over thirty years in the trades as a woodworker and draftsman, because it gives away my age.

In an automated age, it is cheaper to train someone to push buttons and load parts than to hire an experienced worker, and it seems like that is the direction that many shops are headed. Machine shops are doing the same thing as woodworking shops, in my opinion, and then complaining about the lack of experienced help. Experienced help expects a level of remuneration that reflects the years of learning that they have put in to the particular trade, and when there are still younger people who are willing to work for much less, to gain some of that experience, it makes for a very tough job market, in an already tough economy.

As to the specific complaint in your post about age discrimination, I think it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove, especially when most potential employers do not even have the courtesy to respond to an application. Face it, it is an employers' market right now, and they can pick and choose what type of workforce they want - this does not bode well for those of us who are getting a little long in the tooth. I can remember the last bad recession in the 1980's when jobs were scarce - I was one of the young guys who was taking a job from people like you and me, and I didn't think too much about it, because I needed that job just as badly as I do now.

From contributor T:
It's not age discrimination. You're simply too expensive.

If I pay someone who is 60 years old more money than someone who is 30 years old for the same skill set, that is discrimination. If I pay a Caucasian man more money than a Hispanic man for the same skill set, that is discrimination.

You have it backwards. You're worth what the market says you're worth. And the market is saying you're not worth what you're asking.

What's happened here is that you have worked 20 years in a field that only takes about 5 years to learn to do well. After that 5 years, you are at the top of the pay scale. The fact that you decided to stay in that type of career for the next 15 years is the choice you made.

From contributor I:
I agree with contributor T. I just hired an older guy, but I had a budget. I could have gotten a cheaper, younger person; he took a huge pay cut, but is also doing something different than his old job. He would rather be employed than sit home. It worked out for both of us.

From the original questioner:
I would like to address the issue of compensation for older workers. The fact is that there are numerous documented examples of highly qualified older workers who have said that they will work for whatever wage an employer is offering and whose applications are still denied. I include myself among those who have had this experience. Of course, there might be other non-age related issues that could possibly affect such a decision. But age discrimination is real and constitutes a major problem that the older worker must deal with in today's economic climate. For instance, there are some very sobering statistics in the NY Times article that I mention in my initial post.

As far as the issue of five years versus twenty years of experience goes, I will simply say that each project that I do is unique and offers the challenge of new problems. This is one of the things I particularly like about the shop drawing business and which keeps it fresh for me. It is my belief that one's previous experience has a great deal to do with one's approach to solving new problems in terms of the effectiveness and suitability of the actual engineering and the time that it takes to come up with a solution. To think that one can learn all there is to know about any subject in just five years is wishful thinking.

From contributor D:
That's a very real problem, and it is difficult to deal with. You are fortunate that you got any response at all - I ran into the exact same roadblock and could not get a single personnel person to tell me what was going on.

I do a lot of freelance drafting, but branched out into sign making and milling my own designs on a CNC. I also found two part time jobs completely outside of the drafting business just to make ends meet. It's not easy out there for a 60 year old, I know, but we have the ability to work hard and keep on pushing. Just need to adjust what one is pushing for.

From contributor G:
This country is divided on the Labor Laws. Texas and the Southern States have the Right to Work Law which means employees don't have any rights. My wife worked for Dillard's Department Store for 11 1/2 years. Once she started walking with a cane and missing work due to doctor appointments and major back surgery, they kept cutting her pay, then she got laid off at age 58. I was a project manager, age 54, when I was laid off. Stand at the unemployment line and look around - the over 50 group are being laid off first, regardless of race. A black friend of mine told me the EOC was unable to do anything here in the South, because of the Right to Work Law State. Seniority doesn't count here in Texas. No job equals no health insurance and no pension plan.

From contributor S:
All this does not have anything to do with discrimination of any kind. The economy is bad and is getting worse every day. Those who are dispensable and overpaid or highly paid are getting laid off first, because employers can't afford them.

Another factor is the health issue, not health insurance, but health of an older employee. The employer is concerned about frequent callouts, disability leaves, injuries, and other health related factors that may affect productivity and profitability of the business. Don't just blame the employer for discriminating - put yourself in his place and analyze all the factors influencing his decisions.

Iím doing the same type of work as the questioner - shop drawings for woodworking shops. Business is slower than usual, but there still is a fair amount of work out there. Iím continuously striving to improve myself, better my skills and stay on top of new technologies.

To the original questioner: you say you have great experience, but you have not disclosed what your experience is. Are you using CAD to draw and design? Or are you drawing by hand on the drafting board? Are you programming CNC machines? There are many great draftsmen I know who do a great job, but have no experience with computer aided drafting, which is absolutely a must today. 99.9% of businesses have adopted CAD technologies and are not and cannot use older drafting techniques anymore. That may be just another reason.

From the original questioner:
I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

1. Age discrimination is a real documented problem in this country. In fact, it is now affecting more workers than ever before. In the course of my online research I discovered that the traditional cutoff age of 50 is now showing signs of being lowered to as little as 40 years of age.

2. With all due respect, your concerns as an employer that the health issues of the older worker will adversely affect attendance and/or productivity is a common misconception that is often used to justify exactly the problem that I am talking about. If you Google "advantages of hiring older workers," you will find many articles that I believe will address your concern about health as well as many other typical myths about the older worker. To quote one of them; "They tend to have high attendance, few personal problems, are self motivated and can work without supervision." "They make great role models for younger workers."

3. In 1997 I attended the New York University School of Continuing Education and successfully completed four courses which led to a certificate in computer aided design and drafting. I have been using AutoCAD on an almost daily basis since then and currently use the 2010 release. I completely agree with you about the need to constantly upgrade one's skills.

The biggest problem I have now is the lack of experience in Microvellum and CNC programming. Unfortunately, the six shops that I have regularly worked for on a rotating basis are mid-sized businesses that do not have the money to invest in and/or the need to implement those two technologies. So I am stuck in the classic trap of not having the experience to get hired but needing a job to get the experience.

I have considered the extremely expensive option of purchasing Microvellum and may just have to take the plunge to stay competitive as a freelance worker. I am also considering a class in order to start myself on the path to learning the BIM software called Revit. The use of this software would not be directly applicable to the production of millwork shop drawings, but it is an up and coming product which is slowly gaining market share in other industries that use CAD.

4. My current system of pricing is to charge a set, all-inclusive fee, which includes revisions, for all of my freelance projects. I cannot think of a more equitable and attractive pricing method than that. When I apply to a company for a position I now know that I should not request an hourly wage, but rather ask to be remunerated at whatever rate they are willing to pay.

5. Since the early 1980's I have carried my own personal health insurance plan. I have made it absolutely clear to all prospective employers that I intend to hold on to my plan and not use theirs. This has not seemed to make any difference in their negative hiring decisions.

6. The problem of age discrimination is only likely to get worse in the coming years since many baby-boomers will not be able to retire as soon as they had hoped due to the stock market's severe effect on the value of their IRAs, portfolios, etc. There are also some of us who really enjoy our work and want to continue with it for as many years as possible. I think that employers had better get used to all this and adapt accordingly, especially since many of them complain about how unprepared younger people are to enter the workforce in terms of even simple skills.

From contributor B:
Most shops that I talk to have a lot less work than in the past 10 years. They don't need as much help as before. Our drafting department is busy, but not nearly as busy as in the past. We used to outsource some submittal drawings, but no longer need to as we want to keep our current employees busy. We just don't have the volume of work that we had in the past.

I wouldn't hesitate to hire an older employee if I had the need. I know that most of their personal issues are over and they are productive. Heck, I'm one. And face it, how many employees do you hire that you anticipate will be still with you in 5 - 10 years? You'd like to think they would stay, but when they reach a certain level and cannot advance, they start looking to go out on their own and freelance drawings, feeling they can make more money, work from home, and work when they want. I've had several quit to go out on their own, feeling they know it all and can do what they want. Now, when things are slower, they cry foul when they can't get hired full time. Sounds like you all want to have your cake and eat it too.

From contributor C:
From an employer's point of view, why pay for someone's prior 30 years of experience when you can hire someone at half the cost (or less) and in both cases, you have to train them? Assuming both have AutoCAD skills. Also, would you hire and train them (it always take a year to learn your particular company's system) knowing that they really want to make $80K but accepted $30K? My guess is that if a better job came around they would take it. Plus, with a young hire, there is a better chance they will be around in 6 or 8 years. As far as working in the shop, don't get me started on back injuries!

People in school today are taught that you should expect 5 or more carrier changes in your work life. You cannot expect to reenter the job market after a layoff and get your old job back.

I just had a guy with so-so skills that was laid off from a local shop apply and request a higher rate of pay than he was making at the time of his layoff. Ah, what chutzpa!

That's the general situation. In practice, I have to evaluate every potential applicant for what they bring to the company and at what cost. It should be unbiased and you get no extra points for a good practiced handshake. Sadly it's the way it is.

By the way, I just hired an older guy as well as a student out of design school, so don't give me any BS about being biased.

From contributor S:
Everybody wants his cake, and there is nothing wrong with it. If an employee wants to break off and go on his/her own, I respect that.

I don't believe there is such a thing as age discrimination. Legitimate concerns of a prospective employer regarding productivity and profitability of a prospective employee cannot be considered discrimination. And yes, there is an age barrier and there should be. Every employer or self-employed individual must understand that it will be extremely hard to become an employee after a certain age is reached, not because somebody dislikes you for your age. It is the natural aging process which affects humans' abilities to perform (I'm getting no speeding tickets anymore!).That is why we retire after a certain age is reached. Also, age keeps being adjusted lately, and soon we might need to be 120 years old to be eligible for social security benefits.

In a good economy, I would hire older, experienced draftsmen, because there is no direct danger in that position, but I would think twice if I needed to hire an older cabinetmaker or installer. I would say that the age barrier is different for different professions. For draftsmen or engineers, the older and experienced should have the advantage, but not so for somebody who will be using a table saw or shaper on daily basis.

From contributor N:
One thing I have noticed about younger employees over the years is that they are more agreeable to producing work at the pace that the boss requires, even if it is unreasonable and results in a higher error rate.

Many (but not all) business owners and managers do not have a clear understanding of shop drawings and CNC programming, and only see the amount of pages or programs churned out - hopefully with an acceptable error rate. I have always taken more time to check for errors and create a fully engineered set of drawings, even though it is almost impossible to get every detail correct on a larger job due to lack of some information. There will almost always be some tune-up or modification in the shop to fit the techniques and tooling that is available. I feel like I am usually categorized as slow, even though my error rate is very low. Speed and production are top priority for most managers, even in very high end shops.

The point mentioned about taking a year to learn a company's process is a good one. How many of us are given that amount of time to learn the processes, tooling and procedures of a particular company? We are expected to turn out drawings and programs that work, as quickly as possible.

One problem that I have is trying to explain to business owners why something takes as much time as it does - I still have a hard time turning out work that I know is not completely shop or machine ready; younger people will tend to send the work out, not knowing what is incomplete about it, while the more experienced draftsman/engineer will still be working out details. I firmly believe that whatever time is taken by a competent engineer will be saved three times over in the shop, but this concept seems to be foreign to many managers.

I detect a business concept of flashing lots of impressive looking drawings in a presentation in order to sell a job, and then dealing with issues later in the shop. I know of several large companies that seem to use this technique well, but if you look behind the curtain, you will see cash-flow and organizational problems that are about to bring them down. It's a smoke and mirrors game, and I guess some of us old guys are too ethical to play very well - if we get hungry enough, we will re-learn how to do faster, sloppier work to supply the market.

From contributor S:
I agree with you 101%. But I have the reverse problem. I could not convince my employees to spend enough time to tune the drawings up the way I want. I was told I'm slow, but in the end it saves lots of red ink for architects and the shop.

From contributor A:
We hired an administrative assistant last year. She was more experienced and more qualified (and older). My concern was, even though she was willing to work for what we could afford, she would move on to a better paying job as soon as one came available. She assured us that she would not.

Maybe if you went in recognizing where the market rate was and asked for that, you would have a better chance. If you have health insurance and are going to keep it, let the employer know up front. It is 600-800 a month more for someone over 59 than a 20 year old.

From contributor E:
"And yes, there is an age barrier and there should be."

Contributor S, it exists and it is illegal. Proof, in individual cases, is not always easy, but it can be managed. It is usually easier to demonstrate in firing cases than hires, but the questioner may wish to seek legal aid if his problem is age (not salary) related.

From contributor B:
In the commercial world, I think we can all agree that architectural drawings are not what they were 30 years ago, even 10 years ago for that matter. It takes longer to detail a job than in the past. It requires more experience or construction knowledge on the part of the draftsman to interpret the drawings and produce drawings that can be understood, approved and shop personnel can build from.

I'd rather see drawings move through a little quicker, see fewer detailing sheets, but I understand that it speeds the process in the end. I can deal with that.

With that said, there has to be a balance. I had a young draftsman who was extremely fast, but careless and made costly mistakes. I've also found that some older workers are stuck in their ways and don't want to or can't change the way they do things. Then it becomes a struggle and quite frankly, I don't want nor do I have the time for it. I'd rather have someone who does have some experience but at the same time will try to see the way things are today, not 30 years ago.

From contributor S:
Contributor E, that is the problem. Older people can't get hired because they can't get fired. Everybody wants to cover their own butt.

But it is not illegal if the candidate does not qualify due to different reasons. Would you hire somebody who has respiratory problems, or other health issues? Would you hire somebody who you already know will not benefit your business, either an older or younger person? It's not about the age; it is about performance. Would you hire the questioner? When you already know that he may bring legal action against you if something goes wrong? Just be honest.

From contributor C:
A quick re-read of the original post indicates that the author has been a "freelance drafter for 20 years." That's another red flag in hiring. I get lots of guys coming in saying they are great woodworkers and have been running their own businesses for so many years. Then they tell me they are looking for a job because they don't have any work.

Duh! Get a customer and they are gone! I had one guy who rented shop space and said he wanted a permanent job, but he was keeping his rented shop space and machinery.

You have not had an employer for 20 years, as you have been freelancing. Kind of an issue there too. Not much to look at for work ethic, efficiency and working with others as well as taking direct orders from a supervisor.

As far as filing a discrimination suit, at least from what you write, what would you actually claim? Based on the above, it sounds like the people you contacted made reasonable business decisions.

Keep working freelance - sounds like you were able to make a good living doing that. Why are you looking for a job now?

From contributor O:
Contributor E: " exists and it is illegal."

You are correct, it is illegal - made illegal by an entity that has never run a successful business, never had to struggle to make payroll, never put personal assets at risk. That same entity is now operating a trillion dollars in the red, with no apparent concerns, remorse, shame, or viable plan for improvement.

Having said that, older workers are an excellent opportunity for an employer, in my opinion. The BS you have to endure with younger workers grows tiresome quickly, and can be extremely costly. I'll take quiet, slow, and steady over BS, flash-n-dash any day.

From contributor V:
I'll take older workers any day. They show up every day, not hung over and having girlfriend problems. Most managers are mid 30 to mid 40 years old, and don't want someone older because they know more than them (ego).

My dad is 72 years old, still works for me everyday, and works circles around the younger workers. Besides older workers, women make great employees.

From contributor L:
The experience I have gained working in this country as a DDE in the millwork industry (30+ years) has taught me to humbly adjust to the present economic situation. Our current economy dilemma began over two years ago. Furthermore, it's my responsibility to remain mentally and physically sharp and healthy.

From contributor J:
It was greed that perpetuated the economic situation now and greed that keeps it going. Remember that people don't really understand unless they go through it themselves.

Age discrimination, like all other discriminations, doesn't go away by itself. I am in the same boat - 37 years all phases experience, and I am doing apartment maintenance. Believe me, not by choice. I don't feel like working for 15 dollars an hour at this point.

A lot of people are taking advantage of the economy and driving wages back down to where they were when people started to form unions to protect themselves. Sorry there's no solution.

From contributor P:
We have hired experienced people in the past, but did not have much success. The last one would make changes in the shop without asking, thinking he was doing us a big favor. I would spend way too much time listening to things like "Why don't you do it this way," or "I've always done it like this." Experience is a good thing and maybe the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" comes into play, but not every shop runs the same way. I learned the trade from those very same experienced workers and now I find myself turning them down because I need someone who will work within our system. I will always listen to ideas on how to improve upon what we do, but there is a limit. I had an older employee who I had to let go because he would abuse my dog. I would gladly hire older, younger, whatever, but they have to be a good fit for your company or they will not work out no matter what.

From contributor Y:
I think this thread is a perfect example of one of the many things that puts our entire country at a global manufacturing disadvantage. It sounds from the original post that the company is clearly looking for a less experienced, lower paid employee. Now a misguided opportunity is seen to stick it to the man and file a lawsuit. Of course some scumbag lawyer would love to take a case like this, twist it all around, and run to the bank with it. Of course crap like this adds expense to the final product, making it less competitive, or possibly bankrupting the company. Either way it costs other people their jobs in the long run. I'm not saying age discrimination does not happen, but in this case... Give me a break!

From contributor E:
It would seem that if older workers do not have a legal right to compete in the job market - yes, a right that a court (and those lawyers you don't like) can enforce (unless you believe rights enforce themselves) - then I see two choices. Either you add a few trillion more to the taxes, to pay their cost of keeping those who are discriminated against alive... or euthanasia.

Since the social security system is essentially bankrupt, workers will have to go on into their 70's soon. Several folks here feel that workers after their 40's do not have a right to compete for jobs without age bias. How, please tell me, is that supposed to work?

From contributor Y:
As I stated earlier, I'm not saying age discrimination doesn't happen. I'm sure, unfortunately, that it does. From what I read in the original post, age is not a factor in this case. If, in this economy, an out of work person wants to hold out for a high paying job - more power to him. But if that means standing in the unemployment line longer, don't whine about it. This situation seems to have everything to do with money and nothing to do with age.

From contributor E:
I agree. The right is to compete on an equal footing without regard to age, for whatever job is out there, for whatever they are offering to pay for that job. It is not a right to demand your old salary whenever you change jobs. As I wrote before, he may wish to seek legal aid if his problem is age (not salary) related.

From contributor Z:
An employer has the right to hire whom he sees fit to hire, period. Age is about like anything else in this life - strength, smarts, creativity, leadership, etc. They tell me I can't hire someone too young, but then they tell me I can't take age into factoring who I hire. What a crock!

The original poster is not destined for the soup kitchen line. He could work for himself if he so desired. I'm tired of the whining, complaining, and lawyers. Would somebody grow a backbone?

My cabinets are only worth what somebody is willing to pay for them. And I only get to build them for people who want me to. Why are the rules different for the original poster?

From contributor E:
The Equal Employment Law for Older Employees you are discussing was passed in 1967 under President Johnson and has been the law of the United States for 42 years. It affects the status of people over forty years of age.

The days, for better or worse, when an employer could treat anyone however they cared to were reined in starting near the end of the 19th century.

From contributor Z:
I am not asking to treat my employees however I want to treat them. I'm asking for the ability to hire and fire who I wish. While they work for me I would try to treat them like pure gold. You can say, "well, it's the law," and it may be. But I bet even you could go through our law books and find about 50% of them that make absolutely no sense and downright stink.

From contributor BB:
I suspect that the issue of employment right now is more related to our local and global economic malaise, than to your age. When business is booming, everyone is busy and happy (including well-qualified older folks).

Right now there are huge geographical areas in the USA and elsewhere that are economically dead or dying. Just look around and count the number of closed businesses, boarded-up houses and vacated industrial space.

Try asking the cabinetmakers and home builders in much of Florida, for example (if you can still reach them). How many of them are still in business and answering the phone? Ask your local city planning commission, "How many building permits were issued for the last three months?" I did. Their answer? "Zero!"

If you're busy, or at least working right now, you're lucky (and so am I) but there is a huge and growing amount of qualified folks (everywhere) who are positively on the skids. If things don't begin to turn around soon, we may all be wondering, "What's wrong here, am I a bit too old?" I already know I am.

From contributor U:
Contributor Z, you sound angry. I too used to think that life is for the youth, and piss on the rest of them. I don't know your age but I would guess under 40. If you are older, be thankful you are still in the game. I used to work 60 hours a week, made good money, and would honk at the guy that pulled out in front of me. Well, two heart attacks later, you look at things a little different. I don't think the original poster is whining or looking to sue someone, he is just stating the facts as he sees them. As it is said, life is wasted on the youth. Wisdom can only come with age. So open your mind a little to what we can offer. Oh, and I am only 52.

From contributor Z:
The original poster is frustrated, maybe angry, because he believes folks don't want to hire him because of his age. I am mad when someone wants to tell me or have the government tell me, a business owner, who I can hire. It's not the government's or the employee's money on the line. I am so tired of the government telling us how to live and run our business. It that sense, yes, I am very, very mad. My other grievance these days is folks who expect everything. I would hire an older person myself. A lot less baggage usually.

From contributor G:
Standing in the unemployment line, I look around and see half of the people are over the age of 50. They have stories. They mention how long they worked for such and such company. Unable to find work in today's economy. Companies are laying off people with the most seniority and the most pay first. Hiring young ones to replace them at minimum wage. We used to be a great manufacturing nation, and now we are just a big service department, thanks to Congress. Everything is now made in China or overseas.

From contributor Q:
Just brings home the desperation of the boomer generation. We started when you had pensions and profit sharing plans and the promise of a gold watch when you retired at 55 or 60. Bean counters figured out those fixed liabilities were too costly and came up with a matching 401k. Now the economy took a lot of those investments away. I am 60 and just last month paid off my business after 7 years. The last year has been close to bankruptcy every month.

To the original questioner: If you can figure out a way to approach businesses as a freelance support and get enough work to survive, that is your best bet. Just so few jobs available that it is easy to reject applications and you really would have a tough time fighting that in court. I finally got a really big order and we are going to make it, but it has been a scary ride. We just have to tough it out and figure a way to add value that others don't provide. Good luck and don't give up.

From contributor W:
Am I guilty of age discrimination? I am 45 and the oldest person in my shop and I hate to bring people in and see them go. I would not hire a 60 year old person I can not ask any medical questions or how long they want to work before retiring. I do not want a five year employee, I want a 15 to 25 year employee. I know it almost never works out like that, but that is what I try for. In my perfect world I will be the next person to leave the shop. Do I not have the right to try for that?

From contributor H:
Look up the EEOC's Facts About Age Discrimination. The way I read paragraph 3, the ADEA act applies to employers who have more than 20 employees. So if you have the prescribed 20 employees and you discriminate due to age, you could be liable.

From contributor M:
I can't figure out for the life of me why so many people in this thread are afraid of us gray hairs. I know this 63 year old gentleman. He comes to work everyday at 6:30 and works four 10 hour days every week. He has a passion for life and woodworking and it shows in his excellent work. He works without supervision, making impeccable cabinetry and furniture. Due to his many years of experience, he is capable of correcting mistakes as he builds, assuring the highest quality possible. He is confident in himself and pursues his goal of success for his fellow workers and the company. I see this gentlemen every night, in the mirror. (I was "let go" yesterday.) Please give us gray hairs a chance.

From contributor K:
Good post.

I think this age discrimination stuff is a moot point. It might be tough right now, but in the near future, if you want to hire someone, you are going to have to hire the older workers, as there is no one else worth considering.

From contributor J:
I am 57. I have been in the trade for 37 years and have won awards for my work on both coasts as well as in Colorado. I work out at the gym 4-5 days a week, I have a 6 pack (not beer), and bench 230. I can do a hand stand on a pair of gymnastic rings and do things I know the young guys can't.

Still, I switched to apartment maintenance this year as I have no desire to work for 15 dollars an hour. I sent my resume all over the place, including Greece, Italy, etc. Hardly a decent response. What a waste.

From contributor Z:
I'm not trying to beat up on the older guys, but if you don't want to be a $15 dollar an hour guy, well, I hate to say it but that is about where being a cabinetmaker is these days. The competition is fierce for shops. I can't say I agree with you skilled guys making $15; I would much rather it be $30, but don't beat up on shop owners "discriminating." It's about economics, period. It sucks, yes, but it's the reality. And it isn't a crime.

From contributor T:
Up until 6 months ago, I had a finisher in his late 50's that made $80,000 per year. I also had a designer in his mid 50's that made over $100,000 per year.

Once upon a time, people paid me a lot of money to provide them with complex, intricate finishes on almost every project we did. They would also pay large sums to have my designer spend hours and hours with them developing complex, creative designs unique only to them. They paid me huge sums of money, and I in turn paid my employees huge sums of money.

They no longer pay me huge sums of money for these things. So I no longer have a finisher in his late 50's and I no longer have a designer in his mid 50's. It has nothing to do with age discrimination. It's reality. Deal with it like the rest of us.

From contributor F:
As a self employed cabinetmaker who has been in business since the early 80's, I find it easier to get work the older I get. For some crazy reason customers trust the older guy who's been around for awhile and does good work. I'm 58 and have diabetes caused by stress from my line of work. So I would guess I would not make a very good employee, since I take a nap every afternoon, but it turns out I'm still a very good self-employed employee. It's still a free country and going into business for yourself is an option, maybe the only option. If you can't find a job, make a job - this goes for anyone at any age.

From contributor X:
One factor that affects the perceived (prejudiced?) pros and cons of older vs younger is the type of work to be performed. This adds another dimension to the so far two dimensional discussion.

Obviously, slamming panels into and out of self guided machines or assembly clamps or trucks are jobs for the low skill and youthful. Intricate, long term builds of entire projects on a bench is the job for the experienced and confident.

Conversely, age does not automatically confirm skill and knowledge, just as youth does not automatically prevent skill and ability.

From contributor Z:
Those are good points, but please keep in mind that there are very, very few of those jobs left in the woodworking industry.

From contributor AA:
It's only age discrimination if they replace you with a younger worker. I just fired a guy who worked for me for 7 months and he screamed age discrimination. I fired him for poor workmanship and not following instructions. My attorney told me not to worry because I am exempt from that law with 3 employees.

From contributor G:
"It's only age discrimination if they replace you with a younger worker."

That is not a correct statement of the law. The issue is whether the first worker was fired in violation of the statute. The statute does not provide a free pass if you end up hiring an older person. The hiring of an older person might be allowed into evidence, or not, to the extent that the judge in some individual case believes that state of mind would be relevant to the facts at issue. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which the subsequent hiring would not be relevant or admissible. Your exemption is a different issue.

From contributor AA:
I think I didn't make myself clear. It's not age discrimination if the terminated employee is not replaced with another worker. The economy is bad and sometimes the highest paid workers need to be cut for the company to survive.

I don't want anyone to think that I am trying to justify age discrimination. I am trying to point out that there are two sides to a coin. Also an attorney will probably tell you that it's tough to prove even if it is true. For many companies it's not an issue if benefits or retirement are not provided. If a company does not have to worry about retirement, then what does it hurt to have an older worker if he can still do his job well? One of the most profitable workers I ever had was in his late 50's when he started for me. The one who worked for me for a few months and screamed aged discrimination when he was fired was in his 40's and not nearly as profitable. Age had nothing to do with it.