Earning My Daily Bread, Literally

Kitchen Adventures & World Views from Casa LaBelle Breads

Dawn E. Bell

Dawn E. Bell
Monte Rio, California, USA
November 09
Earning My Daily Bread, Literally
Casa LaBelle Breads
Living in West Sonoma County is a little bit like the wild west. People make their own rules and involve the government as little as possible. My partner and I have been here seven years and in that time we have both started new careers, lost our home and found new ways of living in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I write about baking (my new career), scenery, politics, and several things that just generally piss me off or elate me. I'm sarcastic, abrasive and highly verbal and too many opinions. What fun!


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NOVEMBER 22, 2011 2:36PM

Employment: Is It Really Too Much To Ask For?

Rate: 21 Flag

I work hard for what I have in life and I’m lucky to have attached my life to a person who also works hard and makes every day count.  We are both a bit entrepreneurial and as such, have created ways to earn our bread that are different from the main stream.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t understand and sympathize with the millions of people in our age group who can’t find work at a time when they need it the most.   If our plans fall apart, we too, will be part of the long line of older Americans seeking employment who have smarts, initiative and experience.   But so what? Who cares if your employment history is stacked to the rafters with fabulous feats? There are millions out there with perfect records, excellent references and tons of talent.  But they're over 50 and evidently, out of luck.


Middle age is no joke.  When you are in it you realize that you might have fifteen, twenty, maybe twenty five years of work ahead of you; retirement no longer being an option for many of us.  When a person in this group loses their particular job, finding another is made much more difficult for them by a low hiring rate and the influx of young, newly graduated people applying for the very jobs they seek. And apparently, getting them.  Used to be that you could get a decent job – nothing earth shattering, mind you, just enough to make a living – and you could do your job every day, get paid and go home knowing that tomorrow (dull as it might be) you will do it again. It will keep the rain out, keep clothes on your back and maybe give you health care for the kids.  It was basic.  It was ordinary.  Now though, if you are in your 50’s, unemployed and don’t have a college degree, the deck is stacked against you.  And it is completely unfair.

hire me
 This is, after all, the Middle America everyone keeps talking about; the 99% as they have been recently named.  This is the backbone of our Nation. These are the people that make the rest of it possible. Then enable markets to prosper and economics to rise. They spend their money on goods and services and prefer to do that with hard earned cash not unemployment checks. So why can’t they find work?  Why, when these people send out countless resumes do they not even receive so much as a “thank you for applying, but…”?  Why are there so many job listings and apparently no employers interested in hiring them?  What ever happened to simple decency or the common courtesy of offering a “thank you for coming” comment, or even offering suggestions about what they might do better in their next interview?  Why do they roll their eyes (metaphorically or literally) when they see a person over 50 walking in the door? Why are they dismissive and rude and superior?   Why do they make people work so hard for nothing?  

Now I’m going to mention the “L” word. Logic would dictate that an employer would want to play it safe and hire individuals who are steady, hard working and not scouring the internet for “something better” the minute they tuck inside the cubicle their new employer just supplied...  Young people have more time, are much more mobile and less interested in sticking to a particular company or job.  Older Americans understand the importance of diligence in a job, even a dull job.  They know all too well the dangers inherent in being unemployed for any length of time.  Logic though, doesn’t seem to beset many employers.  They see a young eager face with a degree behind them and even if the job they have to offer has nothing whatever to do with the young persons goals, seem to prefer hiring them for a job that they will likely move on from within a year or two for that “something better”. 


I have a friend who is hard working, diligent and steady.  She is a person of substance and experience who doesn’t look down her nose at menial work or long hours. She understands that though the rewards of a given job may not answer her dreams, they will at least keep her living indoors and her bills paid.  Which is all she is asking; it’s all many older Americans in the job market are asking. 


I see the job listings and know there are jobs out there.  I also know that employers are legally bound to advertise for many positions all the while knowing exactly what type of person they want to employ, and sometimes precisely WHO they want to hire.  I see that happen in my own town. Tiny as it is, my town plays job hockey with applicants just like the big boys in the big cities. 


I don’t have the answer of course. I rarely have the answer to any of the big questions.  But I do have a suggestion to employers:  Stop stocking your businesses with young and inexperienced people simply because you have the misguided belief that you can mould them to your will.  Do the right thing and mix it up a little by hiring someone of intelligence and diligence who will stick with you, do the job and who will show their gratitude by being loyal.


Be sensible, be logical and hire experience. 


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By and large, American employers have become extremely short-sighted and illogical. I'm a recruiter by profession, have been for almost 20 years. I would love to be able to refute some of the facts you put forth here, but I can't. What you've said here is absolutely the cold, hard truth. Would that it were not so.

As for answers, well, I'm afraid I can't see any either. I don't know what it will take for employers to wake up and smell the coffee. Or if they ever will.

Unfortunately, Dawn, the need for human labor decreases with each passing day. There simply is no reason to hire large numbers of people (young or old) to do the work that needs doing…and certainly no reason to pay any of those people more than the minimum possible.

We’ve entered a new day…and we don’t know how to handle it. We’ve spent centuries working our way from flint tools to silicon chips…all in an effort to make life easier for humans (read that: to make less work for humans)…and now that we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, we consider it a major problem. Maybe we should have stayed up in the trees.

In any case, Dawn, the jobs are not there…not for the middle aged folk and not for the young…and they are not going to be there during any tomorrows.

So, yeah, it really is too much to ask!
What's even more frightening are the new census bureau statistics that put 51 million more people than expected facing poverty. But guess what? They're working! They just a thread away from economic calamity. And then so many places no longer higher full time. In my humble opinion capitalism as we know it just does not work. We need re-define our entire planet.
Unbreakable - it is a sad and demeaning trend. Maybe we should "occupy" that!

Frank A - I fear you are right. We did too good a job conquoring technology, etc. Still, there ARE some jobs and I have no idea who is getting them. It's not my friend nor those like her.

From the Midwest - I know your right. Not so many months ago we were living with the threat that if one more thing broke down, we'd have no funds to fix it. Rent would go next. We were lucky though -- and savvy. So many others don't have a back up plan or a partner to share the burden. Capitalism is something that only works for those with money. We do need something new to give hope though.
Holy - does this come at a perfect time. I'm 35, lost my job yesterday. Feeling the pressure of having to know what I want to do when I grow up and regretting not having that locked down before I decided to have kids. Now I'm up against 20 somethings who know a heck of a lot more than I do. Uh oh.
And congrats on the EP!
Well-written, sobering article. Makes me thankful for my daily-grind job, and fearful of losing it.
Frank A. is right: eliminating jobs was what "Industrialism" (and Profits) is all about. Wealthy families and clans solve this problem easily and without wringing their hands about it: they just CREATE jobs and NGOs for their members who need one. This could, and should, be a goal for the whole world. However, don't expect it to be consistent with what we laughingly might call "Free Enterprise Capitalism".
It is a problem for the young as well as for the older. It's a problem for the middle. The jobs just aren't there and the ones that are - seems "who you know" has trumped "what you know."
Thank you for this thoughtful and well written post, I can relate completely. I in no way blame younger workers for the systemic problems of unemployment, but one other thing you don't mention here is that the younger applicant is willing and / or able to work at a greatly reduced rate. For those with family and other obligations the salaries offered in today's market are not really livable or sustainable. My husband has been tossed on the the dustbin at 51, and we literally can only hope and pray that my home business continues to succeed. Not to mention there is actually talk of RAISING the retirement age -- more years to be unemployed, AND more jobs not made available for younger workers. Sigh.
Hi Dawn,
Glad to see your post contains an important aspect of the many people that over 50 years of age, they are nowheres ready nor able to collect any thing any time soon. Not to mention if there will be anything when we retire, I just recently had my 51 birthday, and I am in night school trying to get my undergrad, yes you read correctly. I am so happy to mention the many comrades I have come to know in the college I attend. They remind me to hold my head up high and not worry that at 51 I am in night school. My youngest daughter asked me that one day, about my age and being in school, I replied why don't you come over to the college and ask a couple of hundred of people that question and see what they respond? I have been back and forth in school one way or another all of my adult life, between raising a family and or not being able to afford it, I just hammered down and prayed for about 2 years. Well, I have been going to this wonderful school and I am envisioning the day in which I will graduate. I am a writing major, and can only hope that as the opportunity came to return to college, the opportunity will come to write for something that is amzing and worthwhile, as writing is one of so many applications as how to apply writing with other areas and disciplines. The possibilitys are out there, it's changing and challenging the status quo. Each time a person hits a road block, it's time to check out a new avenue, and belive me the paths are out there, tiring as it may seem, a journey is only a journey when a person dosen't closely examine what there purpose is first, there is nothing wrong with menial work either as we are still people so in saying that I am glad you pursued this topic of being over 50 and in need of employment. It's a needed discussion and something will have to be done, since there are too many baby boomers to mention in just one post.
A thoughtful post. You are correct to observe that beyond the economics and politics contributing to the 9% plus unemployment rate, (and much higher if you add back in the numbers the gov does not count like people who just gave up looking for work) Ageism is also a serious issue.

We've been facing up to its reality in our own household for a little while now and while we see what drives it, there is no legislation or behavioral change in society that is going to come along and provide remedy. We instead just looked for a way to counter some of the obstacles:

1.) if you've been out of the work force for awhile either by choice, firing, layoff, etc., you will need to craft a resume that focuses more upon the acheivements themselves rather than the timeline they occurred.
2.) Limit the resume to the most current skills and experience. For instance if you are a computer pro, you don't want mutliple bullets describing your DOS operating system skills or frame relay expertise.
You are also hinting at age when presenting things that will easily date you.
3.) Keep the resume to 1 but never more than 2 pages. Don't bother with fancy fonts or paper. The resume gets scanned and dumped into a resume dB repository so that HR folks can then search for key words.
4. )Emphasize your strong work ethic and that you are a high energy person. One bias hiring managers have with more seasoned candidates is that they won't have the hunger and fire in the belly or show both agility, initiative and willingness to flex to changes inside and outside effecting the firm. The reality of the work force today is that most people perform a variety tasks to the extent that it is almost difficult to assign a single title that fits.

5.) Whether its community college or online training from a reputable outfit- plug back into education. Someone I know who was out of work for the past few years went back to get a Microsoft Office certification. It sends the message that you are remaining current with the commonly used office productivity tools. You don't have to go off and fund an undergrad or grad degree, but taking time to learn and master new skills can only improve your chances without a big financial investment. Just an investment of your time.

6.) If you are not yet doing so, sign up for LinkedIn, Plaxo and/or other social networks. Learn how to use them. The name of the game is networking. Most jobs are found through someone you know or get introduced to and not from a resume you mail off. It will take sometime to build the network so that is why if you've not done it start now or if you have but have yet to put time into it- now you have a reason.

7.) Contract work- Kelly, Yoh, Manpower, Robert Half, there are several. Connect with one and leverage there strengths to get you back to the employment ranks. You will have to take online tests that measure yor ability to use Office, email, etc. but they all usually offer some online tutorials to help you build up your skills.

You will also take a drug test. Lastly they may test your interest level or commitment in the form of sending you to some one day work program. Aceept it whatever it is, cause it might make the diffrence between them calling you for a contract posting over another potential candidate. One thing you need to realize is that while many firms have laid off people, they did not always shed the jobs; they just refulfilled them with contractors for a more competitive rate and avoiding the need to pay benefits. You can argue how terrible this is, but if cash is king, it can still get you back to a paycheck.
8.) Write custom cover letters. It takes more time but you need to map your skills and experience to what is sought in the ideal candidate. Take time to research the firm- know what they do. Compare your understanding to the job post so you can try to read into to what the job requestor was looking for when they drafted the posting.

It is all still a serious challenge and it is unlikely to get any better, but I can tell you that some of the aforemetioned tips have helped people I know find a way to stay in the game a little longer.
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there are a lot of products on sale. Which one is better for 48 years old mom? Handbag,glasses or biniki? Please help.
I have two college degrees and 30 years of professional experience, and still can't find a job. I speak two languages fluently, and I'm a member of the fastest-growing "market" in the United States. (I don't like to describe people with marketing or statistical terms, i.e. "minorities"). I have NEVER asked to be hired based on my ethnic identity, but people automatically assume that is how I should be treated. So, imagine carrying that money on your back in addition to being "old."

It really does come down to who you know, and not what you know, and - here's the kicker - it's ALWAYS been like that. We just didn't know it because we were young, ambitious and bought the lie that all we had to do was go to college, work hard, and we'd be successful. Oops. They forgot to tell us to watch out for nepotism, sexism, racism, ageism and all of the other isms. And, get this, age discrimination starts at 40, not 50. So the job market wants to push people out in the prime of their lives. Younger generations start putting pressure on older generations because there simply are not enough high-paying jobs to go around, what with off-shoring and increased efficiency from technology.

P.S. Read this story in last Sunday's NYT, and it's a must-read for people of all ages. It's by a Harvard econ prof who explains why things are happening the way they are. He provides a lot of answers to the themes everyone is talking about:

So Dawn - If the companies d hire the 50 somethings where does that leave the young people?
No magic answer I can see.
american society does not start with a commitment that everyone works, and everyone eats. it is built around the idea that a certain percentage should starve or perform criminal activity if they are unwanted.

most americans are comfortable with this, not wanting to support loafers, and not wanting to share work and pay, either.

it's only when the 'surplus' people are numerous that the employed get a little nervous.
I think I'm gonna write a post about my ideas. I live in a poor rural area, but it's got some things going for it - a lot of the folks out here are pretty much self-sufficient. Not much income, but they provide their own heating by cutting wood, grow a lot of their own food, live in old houses ... and give each other a hand. Also we have a "re-use centre" at our country dump, where people can get all the furniture, clothing, dishes, bedding, books, etc. that they could need (and with a little patience, nice stuff too), and even a fair amount of building supplies (I got a lot of materials for my reno from dumps). I think a lot of people are going to have to withdraw from the system, tapping in only for those things they can't do themselves (building their own cars, for instance), and getting a lot more communal. A lot of this could work in cities too - I was reading about how in Detroit people are making gardens in the yards of abandoned houses... People may even (shudder) have to start living together in groups. The oligarchy isn't including us in their game any more - well, we can quit trying to oblige...
"If the companies d hire the 50 somethings where does that leave the young people?"

Living with their parents.

My husband is 55 and was unemployed for over 8 months this year. It was incredibly scary and we were afraid he might never work again despite having a Master's degree and a solid work history. During this time in which his unemployment was held up, he put in hundreds of applications for all sorts of jobs and got exactly one interview for a job an hour-and-a-half from home that paid $14.00 an hour before he was hired a couple of months ago at a really good job that he's crazy about. I know how truly awful it is right now and how frightening and depressing it can be but as Winston Churchill once said, "When you are going through hell, keep going." Don't give up and don't be ashamed.
I never meant to imply that young people dont deserve good jobs. I am writing from MY perspective, not me at 25 but me at 54. Young people can do a lot of things that older americans cant. They can take labor jobs if necessary, join the armed services or the peace corps, live at home longer and volunteer or work at mcdonalds. Older americans suffer under the stigma of age discrimination, too much experience, the worry that their work histroy requires higher pay and less control by employers, they have pressing economic matters like home mortages and credit card debt. My perspective is strickly mine -- but I do believe that youth will prevail under any circumstances and that aging americans have less of a chance to live comfortably into their golden years. I believe WE shoudl be first in line for jobs not last because we have been supporting this country far longer than the hungry youth. I'm sorry if anyone is insulted by this reality, but there it is.
I never meant to imply that young people dont deserve good jobs. I am writing from MY perspective, not me at 25 but me at 54. Young people can do a lot of things that older americans cant. They can take labor jobs if necessary, join the armed services or the peace corps, live at home longer and volunteer or work at mcdonalds. Older americans suffer under the stigma of age discrimination, too much experience, the worry that their work histroy requires higher pay and less control by employers, they have pressing economic matters like home mortages and credit card debt. My perspective is strickly mine -- but I do believe that youth will prevail under any circumstances and that aging americans have less of a chance to live comfortably into their golden years. I believe WE shoudl be first in line for jobs not last because we have been supporting this country far longer than the hungry youth. I'm sorry if anyone is insulted by this reality, but there it is.
Dawn: I do think that salary is a factor in hiring younger workers. It's just cheaper to hire young people. Having sat on both sides of the fence, I have to say the general work ethic of some younger people in the workplace isn't the same as more mature folks. They just aren't as experienced. But Occupy shows us it's tough all over, for all ages.

It does seem like we're undergoing some kind of global economic shift. I do think all people deserve to work if they want to. But it seems like we have to re-define what work is. You're doing such a great job of that, with your baking business. Your entrepreneurial zeal is delicious!

I have struggled all my life to come to terms with the work I want to do and what people will pay me to do and what I'm willing to do for the price and terms. It hasn't been well aligned. So I do it all, some for pay and some for free. And probably nothing as well as if I could just do one thing and live from and with it.

But that's just my personal struggle. Does that make any sense?