As we round the corner on Black History Month, I am encouraged to take the heritage and history we’ve all been reminded of over these past few weeks and use it to create a better world today for our Black elders. You may have seen the hashtag #BlackFutureMonth being used on social media as a reclamation of Black History Month and an affirmation of our commitment to equality, equity, and an end to injustice. In that spirit, I am such a fan of the SAGEWorks program. This national employment support program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people age 40 and older expands participants’ job hunting skills and career options, and connects employers to diverse high-caliber candidates. SAGEWorks makes sure that LGBT people of ALL races have access to tools and resources to succeed in the workforce.
I recently read an interview with SAGEWorks NYC participant Sheila Slaughter, a 51-year-old bisexual New Jersey resident who has a robust work history in the nonprofit sector with runaway homeless youth and substance abuse prevention. She is also a blogger who writes about fashion, art, feminism, and the experiences of Black women like her and other women of color. Sheila mentioned in her interview that despite extensive education and work history, the job search process has been angst-filled and isolating. “40-plusers entering the job market can encounter culture shock—so much has changed,” she writes. “SAGEWorks helps to ease the transition.”
SAGEWorks and other employment support and preparedness programs are especially important for our Black elders who face numerous challenges as they search for work. The unemployment rates in the U.S. are always at least 60% higher for Black people than for white people – and at times since these statistics were first reported in 1972, it has been greater than double. Additionally, while age discrimination is technically illegal in the United States, evidence is rampant that age discrimination still persists. Employers show extreme reluctance to hire new employees over 40 – according to AARP, one in five workers between 45 and 74 say they have been turned down for a job because of age. And if an older worker manages to land a job, one in 10 say they were passed up for a promotion, laid off, or denied access to career development because of their age. Factor racial bias into this and it can be an extremely uphill battle for our Black elders to find and keep meaningful employment.
As we work to translate Black History Month to #BlackFutureMonth, I am grateful to SAGE for their efforts to support and prepare older people of color and LGBT elders for success in the workforce – so that they, too, can have promising futures.
Do you have a story about finding employment? Have you participated in SAGEWorks or another employment support program? Tell us here!