Monday, May 19, 2014

What happened to paying your dues?

[Alternate title: Hey you kids, get off my job!]

Back when I graduated from college, in the late 1980s, most of us college graduates felt lucky to get a job, any job, especially us liberal arts college graduates who wanted to go into advertising, or marketing, or public relations, or publishing.

We were THRILLED to get a job as an editorial assistant, or assistant media relations buyer, or marketing assistant -- heck even a receptionist or mail room clerk, if it meant we could get our foot in the door at some swanky advertising agency or magazine.

And the pay? Puh-lease. My first job, as an assistant editor (fact checker) at a New York magazine, didn't even come close to the cost of tuition at my private liberal arts school -- or allow me to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. But man was I happy to have gotten it, especially after not being able to even get an interview at any of the other places I had applied.

Indeed, all of my friends who were lucky enough to find jobs in NYC and Boston right after school, working for slave wages, living with their parents or several roommates, were thrilled to have a job. Sure, we would have liked to have made more money right out of school, but everyone knew you had to work your way up the corporate ladder -- pay your dues, and in five or seven or 10 years you would be a senior whatever, making a living wage. That's what people did back then.

How times have changed.

Today, actually I would argue since the mid-1990s, youth and chutzpah are rewarded and age and experience are seen as negatives -- with mothers who took a few years off to raise a family and fifty- and sixty-something men and women with years of experience making a fraction of what many (most?) of today's twenty-somethings are making, or commanding, and often being the first to be "downsized" (laid off, fired) when times get tough. Though this may have changed somewhat after the recession of 2008.

I blame it on the rise of the Internet -- the "dot com" phenomenon of the mid/late 1990s -- and social media, the "dot coms" of the mid/late 2000s.

Suddenly, we went from a society or culture that valued age and experience to one where technology was king, and any peasant who could create a, or website, or code, no matter how stupid or unprofitable the idea, was practically handed a bag of money -- and a big title.

Pity those poor slobs over 30 (like me, and pretty much everyone I knew) who had spent the last eight, or six, or however many years toiling away at this job or that, paying their dues, as they had been told they had to do to get ahead, who suddenly found themselves outranked or outpaid by hordes of twenty-somethings with no experience, no social skills, and in many cases no college degree but who could code or design a website.

Indeed, although I had a job at the time, as an editor, making a decent (for an editor) wage, I remember my husband saying to me that I should learn web design or coding -- and feeling too old at 30.

Though not that long after he made the suggestion, I left my job at the publishing company and started writing about technology.

Fast forward approximately 15 later.

I still write about technology. Only today, now in my 40s, I make 50 percent LESS (and that's being optimistic) than I did when I started out. Even though I have way more experience. But just try finding a decent-paying job when you are a forty-something. (Especially if it involves writing. Apparently a skill no longer deemed important by society.) And it's worse if you are older.

Btw, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Just talk to any forty- or fifty- or sixty-something who has had to look for a job the last 10 years or so, and he or she could probably tell you how hard it is -- and that they lost out to someone much younger. Or if they did find a job, how it paid much less than their last one -- and their boss is young enough to be their kid, or grandkid.

And don't get me going off about social media -- Twitter, YouTube, etc. -- and all of these so-called social media experts and consultants and YouTube stars. (Hey, you kids, get off my computer!)

Granted, age, or experience, or years on the job/at a company shouldn't be the only qualification for a job or a promotion, as it was when I first entered the work world. But surely age and experience should count for something, at least as much as having a cat with a popular YouTube channel or Twitter feed, right?


Another David S. said...

Yes. This. But of course you knew I'd say that (whilst nodding sagely as we "old" folk tend to do).

Anonymous said...

Kids today....shesh...