Age Discrimination in Colorado: Stories I’ve Heard & Lessons I’ve Learned

As a 23-year-old woman preparing to enter the paid workforce full time, I was unfamiliar with the discrimination older workers face until I personally witnessed my 52-year-old father experience it in his recent attempts to re-enter the workforce. After a brief period of unemployment, my father attempted to switch careers from manufacturing to web development. He completed a three-month coding bootcamp at the University of Denver, yet could not seem to get an interview after completion. His younger classmates found jobs very quickly, while he and his older classmates continue to struggle in their journey to rejoin the workforce. 

Age discrimination against older adults is an increasingly prevalent issue, both nationwide and in Colorado. According to the AARP, about 3 in 5 older workers nationwide have either seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. In Colorado, over 30 percent of older Coloradans report experiencing age discrimination in the workplace. As a part of the Bell’s policy efforts to address age discrimination in Colorado’s workforce against older adults, I spent the last three months speaking to nine older Coloradans who reported experiencing workforce age discrimination and wanted to share their story in hopes it could help enact change.

These stories were often disheartening and frustrating, but also moving, as they showcased the strengths and resiliency of so many older Coloradans. It is important in policy work to remember exactly who these issues and policies impact, and these stories highlight why the Bell’s efforts to address workforce age discrimination are so important. 

The following sections present the major themes I heard when hearing from these storytellers, highlighting why we must prioritize protecting older workers in Colorado.  

Where Age Discrimination Occurred for Respondents

For those who I spoke to, age discrimination occurred in a variety of settings, yet hiring was the most common. Many described being passed up for jobs due to their age, by not getting interviews or getting interviews but ultimately not getting the job despite possessing the proper qualifications. Many times, the age discrimination was covert, masked by the reasoning the older applicant was “overqualified” for the job, or concern they could not thrive in a fast-paced work environment and complete the necessary tasks. This was especially prevalent for those seeking jobs in the tech and marketing fields where social media has become increasingly important. For example, one of the storytellers I spoke to said an employer required all applicants to write a blog post for the company’s website, and despite not hiring her, still used her blog post on the site.

In a few cases the age discrimination was overt, with the person being told outright they were “too old” and the employer was looking for someone younger. Respondents also detailed experiencing harassment in the workplace, including being spoken to harshly by their bosses and being blamed for the mistakes of younger coworkers. One respondent even said she was suspended for a day without pay due to the mistake of a younger coworker on an important task, and noted her job responsibilities were slowly being transferred to younger coworkers. A couple other respondents noted feeling forced or “pushed” to retire or leave their prior field of work, despite their significant contributions to the workforce or a specific industry. 

Impacts On Their Lives

These age discrimination experiences had significant mental, emotional, and psychological impacts on respondents. Many stated these experiences were depressing, disheartening, and frustrating, and often made them question their value, capabilities, and self-worth. One respondent stated her experience made her feel like a “second-class citizen.” A couple respondents even noted they felt borderline depressed and sought out mental health help. Many expressed feelings of sadness and disappointment regarding these experiences, and one said she had a “PTSD-like” response to job interviews after experiencing repeated age discrimination in the hiring process. Many felt their skills and talents were not being put to good use, and were faced with the question of “What will I do?” They enjoyed working, yet were not even being given the chance to do so due to their age. 

These experiences with workforce age discrimination took a serious economic toll on some of the respondents, as they were in desperate need of a job to pay their bills and to afford Colorado’s growing cost of living. One participant explained having to take hourly jobs she was overqualified for so she could pay her bills, and another explained having to spend a significant amount of money to have someone help her make her resume look “younger.” One storyteller is an immigrant who is not eligible for many public benefits, which made her financial situation even more precarious and stressful.

Intersection of Race, Gender, & Age

All but one of the storytellers I spoke to are women, and the one man had not personally experienced age discrimination himself. A few of these women experienced age discrimination after taking time away from the workforce to care for their children. Older women may struggle to reenter the workforce after periods of unemployment, and often face both gender- and age-based discrimination. 

One participant also discussed the racism and sexism she has experienced as a dark-skinned female immigrant of color in addition to age discrimination. She said she came to the United States because she had heard it was the “land of dreams,” only to realize it is a nation where systemic oppression and discrimination is all too frequent. The AARP says minorities are more likely to feel less able to reenter the workforce due to age discrimination. Therefore, women, especially women of color, may face multiple forms of discrimination in Colorado’s workforce. 

Listening to Others’ Stories & Experiences is Critical to Gaining a Deeper Understanding of Policy Issues

Hearing these stories really showed why it is so important to connect personally with individuals impacted by policy issues, including those the Bell works on. When engaging in policy work it can be easy to become disconnected from the individuals and families these issues impact; therefore, it is important to take time to talk to people and hear their stories and experiences. The vulnerability and openness these respondents showed when speaking to me is inspiring, and their stories showcase just why age discrimination in the workplace is such an important issue to address. These personal stories highlight the need for stronger age discrimination laws in Colorado to protect older adults in or seeking to reenter the workforce. Every Coloradan deserves the right to achieve upward economic mobility, including older Coloradans.