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Beryl Lieff Benderly

What a Difference Age Makes

Over the past few months, we’ve been following the continuing saga of President Obama, Jennifer Wedel, her still-unemployed, mid-30s husband Darin, and the case of the vanishing engineering jobs. Now, over at Bloomberg, the ever-astute Norman Matloff offers a crucial clue that may help solve the mystery: for many technical people, “employability starts to decline at about age 35.” 

Matloff has been arguing for years that the dirty secret of the so-called shortage of technically trained American workers is age discrimination, specifically that many employers prefer young workers, who are energetic and cheap, to older workers who have years of experience and expect their paychecks to reflect that. The argument often made that only young workers have the up-to-date skills that employers need “doesn’t jibe with the fact that young ones learned those modern skills from old guys like me,” he writes. (Matloff is a professor of computer science at University of California-Davis.) “Basically, when employers run out of young Americans to hire, they turn to young H-1Bs, bypassing older Americans.”

Not a very attractive prospect for a lot of the young Americans whom President Obama wants to encourage to invest their youth in education in the hope of a good long-term career, Matloff suggests. But don’t take it from me. Get more on this idea from Matloff himself.