I am 50 years old, disabled and recently graduated from university. Why can’t I get a job?
Throughout my job search, there were hundreds if not thousands of applicants for job openings in Tucson.
I am 50 years old, I have been disabled since 2003 and I have no recent professional experience. Apparently, three strikes and I find myself with a meaningful and paying job in Arizona.
By paid employment, I mean employment that actually pays an hourly or salaried wage in Arizona. Bots that search for resumes don’t give a full account of people with disabilities. HR reps need to take the time to dig a little deeper when it comes to the workforce with disabilities.
Think about these statistics.
From the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council in 2019:
- 72.7% of working-age adults in Arizona are employed.
- 26.3% of Arizona working-age adults with cognitive disabilities are employed.
- 15.8% of individuals in Arizona have a household income below the poverty level.
- 28.3% of Arizona people with cognitive disabilities have a household income below the poverty level.
And according to a pre-pandemic report from the Arizona Workforce Development Board:
- 488,802 adults of working age have a disability.
- Only 38% had a job.
I have marketable skills
Despite my learning and physical disability, I just graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in political science/international relations with a GPA of 3.7.
I started my job search 6 months before graduation so I could start working as soon as I graduated, thinking that would be a long time to find a job.
I’m not the typical student and being 50, with two kids living with me and a house to maintain, I can’t just go back and live with my parents until I find a job.
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I was in the engineering/defense field prior to my disability and served in the US Navy as a submariner from 1996-2001 resulting in a wealth of experience that is still relevant today today. My disability didn’t take away my experience, and I’ve followed technology and my knowledge base over the years and gained experience in other areas.
I also got insurance licenses to act as a back-up in case I didn’t find the job or career I was hoping for. Not neglecting those career areas at all, but that’s not why I went to college. It all adds up to still being highly relevant in today’s job market.
Say you’re disabled, and they never call back
Outside of the insurance industry, I’ve only had one decent job offer, but it offered very little to no opportunity for advancement and no skills that I could apply to other opportunities.
I sent over 60 resumes and several recruiters and HR reps contacted me wanting an explanation for the large gap in my work history. I tell them that I have been disabled since 2003 and never hear from them again.
I usually send a cover letter that explains this, tailored to a particular job posting.
Of the handful of actual in-person or telephone interviews, none produced an offer.
I was part of the Labor Recruitment Program through the University, a service for people with disabilities that helps find work in government agencies. I was part of it for two years and only had one contact through the program. Government agencies are supposed to mine this database to search for people with disabilities who they believe match their job openings. I don’t know if they actually use it.
I have found that all job offers that require a medical exam, I will fail – and I failed. Which means I didn’t get the job.
Because of my disability, I spent 90% of my day studying and doing my homework, usually 7 days a week. It was almost impossible for me to socialize in any way. It also meant there was no networking opportunity, which is unfortunate.
Because the good old job search network seems alive and well. The same is apparently true of ageism and ableism.
Michael Foglietta suffered a blood clot rash in the brain in 2003. He graduated from the University of Arizona in August with a bachelor’s degree in political science/international relations and lives in Tucson. Contact him at [email protected]; on Twitter: @michaelfogliet2.