When 'official' figures put UK unemployment at a five-year low and the government insist we are in the middle of a 'jobs boom', for those of us who have already had a career, there isn't a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
As the population ages, a great number of us surviving on benefits will be middle aged and upwards, and for this age group it's even more difficult to find employment that will see us through until retirement. With any 'jobs boom' comes a rise in inflation, the cost of living goes up but our wages and benefits do not.
At 42 and after a twenty-year career in the fashion industry (as a designer / trend forecaster and writer), I found myself unemployed and living on state benefits. My savings were spent, a pension plan I had paid into was frozen and I was unable to access it (even though it would have gone a long way to paying off my debts) and I found myself dependant on benefits and help from my mother, my best friend and my ex partner.
I applied for job after job and for every ten vacancies I put myself forward for, I was lucky if I received one cursory email saying 'thanks but no thanks' from a prospective employer. I would say out of every 50 jobs, I reached the interview stage once or twice only to hear the same feedback from every interviewer. 'You're too experienced for this role', 'the people you'd report to would be more junior than you' or 'we think you only want this job because you like (insert company name) rather than the position you're interviewing for'.
I read articles all the time about how difficult it is for school leavers and university graduates to find a job but I feel there is a huge demographic of the population approaching middle age (and older) who are largely ignored in the job market. The words 'too experienced' are really just another way of saying 'you're too old' without having to deal with accusations of ageism.
In the creative industries where age and experience should be a blessing, jobs are scarce and the employers that actually want to pay new employees are few. Every magazine would rather have an 'intern' than pay someone to actually write something for them and any offer to publish your work comes with the promise of 'exposure' rather than monetary reward. It's difficult to sell yourself and have the same enthusiasm at 42 that you had at 22. A 22 year old doesn't come with the (financial) baggage a 42 year old may be carrying and a minimum wage or promise of 'exposure' just isn't going to cover that. It seems that for many of us, working 'freelance' really does mean working for free.
Society puts a huge pressure on us as we reach 'middle age'. There are expectations of success and security (both financial and emotional) that we place upon ourselves. It's expected that we will have a career, be in a relationship and own a property by the time we hit 40, but for many of us, these things didn't happen, or we had them and we lost them. The older I have got, the more humble I have become. I have experienced the best of times when I was financially secure but have also had times when I have been circling the drain (financially). The fashion and media industries are not kind to us as we grow older and neither is the job market or the job centre. I have seen and experienced first hand how unemployment later in life can impact a persons self worth and self-esteem. Most of us are really only a few bad decisions or extreme bad luck away from losing financial security or even our homes.
Unemployment may be at 'an all time low' but I would say that is more to do with the government renaming and switching peoples benefits and training schemes rather than any 'job boom'. There are still a huge number of people in their 40's, 50's and even their 60's who desperately want to and need to work in order to prepare for retirement but who are largely ignored.