Older Coloradans struggling to find work during the global pandemic

COVID-19 highlights age-related employment issues
Posted at 6:22 PM, Dec 22, 2020
and last updated 2021-01-05 15:06:29-05

DENVER — The global pandemic has hit the American workforce like a ton of bricks, but no one has taken it on the chin quite like older workers.

COVID-19 is serving up a double threat: not only are older Coloradans at higher risk of developing complications from the virus, they are also susceptible to ageism that makes it tough for them to find work—even in good times.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the number of unemployed workers ages 55-64 rose by nearly 3 million from February to May of this year, far more than any other age bracket.

Workers here in Colorado said they're definitely feeling it. Decades of experience is actually making it more difficult for millions to find work in COVID times.

Take Craigers Hanzelka, for example. His resume reads like a playbook for the Food Network.

"I have been a chef in restaurants. I trained in France," Hanzelka said.

Yet, he's experiencing more job insecurity this year than ever before.

"They've basically said, ‘Oh, we're not hiring. We've already hired our people.' And it's kind of sad, because it's like, well, what about me? I'm part of the people," Henzelka said. “I wondered, is it because I’m 54-years-old?"

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of those unemployed for more than 27 weeks and still seeking employment, unemployed job seekers 55 and older almost doubled those in younger age brackets.

"Calling up the restaurant that I used to work at and they're not hiring, but they're hiring all these young kids,” Hanzelka said. "I worked for the Milk Market downtown. Great, great restaurant. Loved it. Loved being there."

Milk Market adamantly disputed the claim they are discriminating based on age.

“Before the pandemic we had nearly 300 employees at Milk Market. We’re down to 30,” said Jacqueline Bonanno, Milk Market owner. “Probably 12 of those workers were here before the shutdown. Think of that—from 300 to 12.”

Bonanno says there are "a good number of us well over 50."

“I can't even imagine how a restaurant could be in a position to discriminate on rehiring. We're just scrambling to stay alive,” Bonanno said.

Hanzelka stands by his claim.

“I think it's always based on age and it always has been," he said.

Hanzelka said he’s now updating his resume.

"I'm trying to reinvent myself the best I can,” Hanzelka said. “And however that looks, it's going to be something I've got to really work hard at because 54, it ain't easy."

Remote and virtual work has also forced all age groups to adapt to new technology, and younger employees are often thought of as more tech-savvy. However, the AARP said statistics show older employees are just as adept to learning new technology as young ones.