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Can Betty White help older workers?

The latest venture for the 88-year-old actress is a line of hoodies with earbuds. Maybe respect for her will rub off on the rest of us.

By Teresa Mears Sep 20, 2010 4:06PM

Patricia Reid probably wishes she were Betty White.


While Betty is enjoying a new popularity and a new TV series at age 88, Patricia has been looking for a job for four years, even though at 57 she's young enough to be Betty's daughter.

The veteran actress' success is a reminder that being old doesn't mean being irrelevant. But many older workers are finding that, even if they'd like to work until they're 88, they may not get the opportunity. 


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USA Today expressed the problem bluntly:

Jobs are scarce and many employers aren't willing to hire older workers. Boomers who do land jobs often must settle for ones that are less fulfilling than desired.

For every Betty White, who is able to find fulfilling work past retirement age, there are thousands of Patricia Reids. Reid was laid off four years ago from her $80,000-a-year job as an internal auditor at Boeing near Seattle, The New York Times reports.


Betty's latest reinvention is pushing a new line of hoodies and T-shirts. These are not modeled after the clothing worn by her cranky housekeeper character, Elka Ostrovsky, in "Hot in Cleveland," but aimed at a younger crowd who will appreciate that the hoodies come with earbuds for listening to a mobile music player. Corinne Heller has the scoop and links to Betty's saucy new videos promoting the hoodies at On the Red Carpet.

The savvy older worker, of course, would never dream of showing up in a hoodie or wearing earbuds at work.


Perhaps Betty White's popularity among young people will help bring some cachet to older workers who are often passed over for jobs because they're seen as behind on technology or unable to learn new things. Just because we remember watching Betty play Sue Ann Nivens in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" when it originally aired in 1970 doesn't mean we're stupid.


At least one young person was ready to take a chance on Betty. The push to get her to host "Saturday Night Live" came from 29-year-old David Mathews of San Antonio, Texas, after Betty's appearance in a Super Bowl commercial for Snickers.


We can only hope that Betty will help change the image of the older worker and that 29-year-old managers will see the worth in a job applicant old enough to be his mother or grandfather. We may not all need to work when we're 88, but most of us will have to work for a good long time beyond 57 or 62.


Carolyn Anderson  of ImpowerAge came up with a list of "9 secrets to Betty White's success." We particularly like the advice to branch out, take risks and take the small parts.


A sense of humor doesn't hurt, either, reminds Patrick J. Kiger at Second Act, who also notes that William Shatner, 79, has benefited from an ability to laugh at himself:

That sort of humor, in a sense, is a way of showing one's indifference toward the inevitability of aging, and refusing to allow it to become an obstacle. What White and Shatner are really saying with their geriatric schtick is that they're confident in who they are now, and that they still have plenty left to offer.

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