Business

On Topic: You kids get off my lawn!

Jimmy Breslin smokes a cigar outside the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 1973. (Washington Post photo by Ellsworth Davis)
Jimmy Breslin smokes a cigar outside the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 1973. (Washington Post photo by Ellsworth Davis)

Before moving to Iowa to work at The Gazette, I’d spent a fair batch of time looking for work.

True, journalism jobs are far less plentiful on the ground than they used to be not so long ago. And, also true, publications structurally have fewer editor jobs than they do, say, reporter jobs

I was open to other opportunities, I was willing to relocate, but my search still was an arduous one. Think Odysseus’s journey back to Ithaca after the Trojan War. Except, you know, without Poseidon or Sirens.

And throughout it all, more than once I considered how much the fact I’m on the other side of 30-something affected my response rate. You can trim only so much from your resume without it diluting experience as one of your strongest selling points, right?

Turns out, the answer is that age discrimination in hiring is as virulent as ever. Listen to this:

In a story on NPR’s “Morning Edition” last month, Ina Jaffe reported on a University of California-Irvine study that sent out 40,000 identical resumes for jobs at a number of companies. Identical except for the ages of the fictitious applicants.

The results were more surprising than you might suspect — depending, I imagine, on the last time you looked for a job.

“The call-back rate — the rate by which employers contact us and say we’d like to interview you — drops from young applicants to middle-aged applicants and drops further from middle-aged applicants to older applicants,” said UC-I economics professor David Neumark.

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By “older,” Neumark means 65 years of age. Maybe more unsettling is that by “middle aged” he means 40.

Forty, in terms of hiring bias, has become the new 65.

Oh, I do get it. Younger employees, it’s assumed, likely can learn new skills, especially tech ones, more quickly. They generally cost less. Your company wants a long-term ROI.

And less-seasoned workers potentially are more, let’s say, malleable.

As one astonishingly candid job interviewer remarked after telling me his magazine was going to keep looking, “We just don’t think, given all your experience, you’d be as willing to take, well, direction .”

OK, I had to give him that one. But why hire anyone if you’re not going to listen to what that person has to offer?

Isn’t this discrimination — and that’s what this is — illegal, you might naively ask? Why, yes, it is, according to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (itself more than 40 years old). An update to the law was proposed in February.

Enforcement is another matter.

Aside from that, the compounding problem is we are in an era in which more baby boomers — and soon, Gen Xers, too, given the lowered bar of 40 — will want to keep working, in many cases will need to keep working, and still have quite a bit of knowledge and skill to offer.

The solution should be what always should have been: Hire the most qualified candidate regardless of skin color, religion or sexual orientation, or if they remember the names of all the Beatles.

lll

I have to say just a few words about Jimmy Breslin, who died March 19 at the age of 88.

“Charles Dickens disguised as Archie Bunker” was how one acquaintance described the New York City newspaper columnist, novelist and all-around man-of-the-working-class trouble maker. Another referred to Breslin as moody.

He wrote opinion columns, but they were based on his own reporting, as Pete Hamill noted.

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And Breslin wrote — and wrote very, very well — about things other writers, to their later chagrin, hadn’t even thought of. He interviewed the man who dug the grave for the assassinated President John Kennedy. (You can read his 1963 New York Herald Tribune column, “It’s an honor,” at http://urltrim.co/XJwBpf.

He inspired later generations of writers to always ask themselves, What would Breslin do?

He messed with powerful, and he won a Pulitzer Prize.

And Breslin might have appreciated the irony of this headline that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on March 20, the day after his death: “CEO pay climbs with the market.”

Columnists, we hope, wondered out loud, What would Breslin do?

lll

l If you subscribe to The Gazette — and if I’ve not said this before, thank you for that — the second edition of “Iowa Ideas” magazine will be included with your April 30 paper. Or you can sign up to have a copy mailed to you, free, at thegazette.com/iowaideas.

The magazine offers long-form stories as well as striking photos and graphics by our staff, done in more depth than we traditionally have in our daily Gazette. Take a look and let us know what you think, won’t you?

l On April 11, the Iowa Ideas symposium will be in Sioux City, at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center. On April 25 and 26, we’ll be in Des Moines. Then in May we’ll have events in Council Bluffs and Davenport.

You should come. Go to thegazette.com/iowaideas to check out the specific topics up for discussion at the individual symposia, and make your reservation.

l Michael Chevy Castranova is business editor of The Gazette; (319) 398-5873; michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com

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