hart.jpgRemember Velma Hart, the woman who got up in front of President Obama during a forum earlier this year and told him she was “exhausted” and sick of defending his economic policies? She and her husband were worried about their financial futures, and she wondered if there was any hope.

Well, she lost her job.

The middle-aged Hart was the chief financial officer for AmVets, a non-profit veterans service organization, and found out last last week that she was yet another layoff casualty in this economy.

Unfortunately, her situation is not unique, and making matters worse for Hart as she goes back out into the job market is her age. Sorry folks, it’s just a harsh reality.

She may benefit from her media exposure, but for most middle-aged job seekers, the return to a job, particularly a similar job, can be daunting.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held hearings on how difficult it can be for older workers.

Discrimination charges have been skyrocketing for older workers in the workplace, up nearly 25 percent last year, and the unemployment rate hit 7.3 percent in August, from 3 percent in November 2007, according to the Department of labor. The last two years, said William Spriggs, the DOL’s Assistant Secretary for Policy, said during the meeting, have been “the longest spell of high unemployment workers in this age group have experienced in 60 years.”

According to the AARP, the “average duration of unemployment continued to rise, as did the proportion of unemployed workers among the long-term unemployed. At the same time, the number of older persons who said they wanted a job but were not looking for one rose by 6.1 percent.” So that means, those individuals aren’t even included in the jobless rate.

The many speakers at the EEOC hearing were pretty downbeat on what older workers faced, but I thought it was a great step by the EEOC to get this issue out on the table for all to see.

“The testimony we heard today also sheds light on some of the unique challenges faced by older job seekers and will be invaluable as the Commission works to strengthen its enforcement of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien.

The Act, which was signed into law in 1967, has long needed to be brought into the Internet age. Right now, workers often lose out on jobs because some online applications ask for birth dates, or job histories with dates, that allow employers to see a person’s age and maybe decide against them before the applicant has had a chance to prove themselves in an interview.

The EEOC is looking a possibly stopping the practice; and the agency wants to make sure that employer understand it’s not ok to discriminate against an older worker.

“The treatment of older workers is a matter of grave concern for the Commission,” said EEOC Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru. “We must be vigilant that employers do not use the current economy as an excuse for discrimination against older workers.”

Hopefully Hart will get a fair chance to prove herself.

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