Ageism, Mitt Romney and National Public Radio

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Age discrimination normally is the one type of discrimination that is so prevalent that it  goes unnoticed.

But I couldn’t help but notice it this week.

First, Republican Mitt Romney, 67, claimed that he decided not to stage a third run for the presidency because it is time to pass the reigns to a “new generation:”  Romney, of course, didn’t mention that his backers have fled because he proved on two occasions that he is hopelessly out of touch with the American public and surprisingly inept at being a politician.  Romney’s ageist stab at Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, 67, and Republican Jeb Bush, 61, shows he is just as clueless about aging as he is about the lives of ordinary Americans.

This morning, I was taken aback by a segment on the National Public Radio program, “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”   A panel spent several minutes joking about Bob Dylan’s appearance on the cover of “AARP The Magazine.” Host Peter Sagel, 50, compared Dylan, who is 73, to a “strange withered troll.” He goes on to say, “If you’ve seen the cover, I know you’re thinking, ‘Aww, that’s too bad’ … but no, Bob Dylan is still alive …  He’s updating his songs, like, Lay Lady Lay, lay across my adjustable hospital bed … His real name is Bob Zimmerman. He’s an old Jewish man now.”

Is it completely humorless to note that Sagel’s jokes are really about age?  His comments perpetuate mean-spirited, dehumanizing and false stereotypes about aging.  It is almost as if Sagel feels that Dylan has  forfeited his brilliance and talent and suffered the final humiliation by becoming an “old Jewish man.”   This type of humor is on the same spectrum as tasteless jokes about blondes and minorities, which presumably would not be allowed on NPR.

The mission of NPR is to “to create a more informed public — one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.”  NPR is informing the public but what it is telling the public is that ageism is acceptable, entertaining and doesn’t hurt older people.

In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I argue that older workers are subject to epidemic discrimination because of deep-seated animus against aging and false stereotypes about older Americans.  I cite a 2002 study of 68,144 participants of diverse ages that found that age bias “remains in our experience … among the largest negative implicit attitudes we have observed … consistently larger than the anti-black attitude among white Americans.”

Age Discrim. Article Featured in Aging Today

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I am pleased that the American Society on Aging has chosen to feature my article, An Epidemic of Discrimination, about the silent epidemic of age discrimination in the workplace, on its web site and in the January/February issue of its magazine, Aging Today. Founded in 1954, the mission of the ASA is to enhance the knowledge and skills of those who work to improve the quality of life for older adults and their families.  The association, based in San Francisco, includes a diverse array of professionals, educators, administrators, policy makers, business people, researchers and students.  I argue in the article that rampant, unaddressed age discrimination against workers in their 40s and 50s – particularly during the Great Recession – has eroded their financial security during their retirement years.  This is one of the themes I explore in my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace.

Obama Forgot to Fight Age Discrimination

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“Obama will fight job discrimination for aging employees by strengthening the Age Discrimination in Employment Act … .”  Source: Blueprint for Change (2008)

I was surprised when I recently read that President Barack Obama pledged in 2008 to strengthen the nation’s primary law prohibiting age discrimination, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

Surprised because the ADEA is much weaker today than it was when Obama was running for President in 2008 . The ADEA was decimated by an adverse U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2009. Congress could have legislatively “fixed” the Court’s ruling but has failed to pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act for five years.  But I was most surprised because Obama himself is responsible for weakening the ADEA.

Obama signed an executive order in 2010 that allows federal agencies to discriminate against older workers by hiring “recent graduates” –  which is in direct contravention to the ADEA.  What message does it send to private employers when the U.S. government deems it appropriate to discriminate on the basis of age? Whether intended or not, Obama’s executive order serves as a green light for employers to engage in harmful, invidious age discrimination.

Meanwhile, Obama’s administration is in the process of planning a White House Conference on Aging this year . Organizers so far have completely ignored the unaddressed epidemic of age discrimination in the workplace that is catapulting older workers into chronic unemployment, low wage jobs and forced early “retirement.”

The Conference recently announced it is partnering with the AARP, the nation’s leading purveyor of supplemental Medicare health insurance, to co-sponsor five regional forums to hear from the public “on issues such as ensuring retirement security, promoting healthy aging, providing long-term services and support, and protecting older Americans from financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect.” Promote healthy aging?  Hmmm … Do you have supplemental Medicare health insurance?

Obama’s unfulfilled campaign promise points to yet another reason that the problem of age discrimination is so prevalent in America today. Older Americans have failed to effectively marshal their resources  to insure that their interests are not forgotten by politicians the day after the election.   In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama focused on young families and the middle class and failed to even mention issues of particular concern to older Americans,

In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I explore the reasons that age discrimination is treated like a lesser offense when compared with discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin.  I show that age discrimination is about perception, not reality.  It is about unfounded stereotypes and deep-seated animus. And it has a devastating impact on the health and welfare of older Americans.

 

 

Older Americans are Invisible in Obama’s Union

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President Obama forgot something in his State of the Union address – the plight of older Americans.

He talked about a young couple who suffered through the recession but emerged victorious. He talked about middle class economics and helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change.  And all of that is good.  But he didn’t mention the other end of the spectrum, the millions of older Americans who are facing the specter of  poverty or near poverty in retirement.

Millions of Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers are facing an uncertain future. They don’t have the benefit of a traditional pension because private-sector defined benefit pensions were frozen or discontinued in the 1990s.  They were replaced with 401 (k) plans, which are financed by individual workers’ contributions. However, older workers could not save enough to finance a secure retirement in 401 (k) plans because of the recession and they don’t have enough time left in the workforce to rebound.  Meanwhile, they lost jobs,  investments, suffered housing foreclosures, and continue to face epidemic and unaddressed age discrimination in hiring.

Obama set forth a laudable program to establish paid family and sick leave, equal pay for women, two years of free community college, raising the minimum wage and helping veterans and military spouses find good jobs. All of these goals are worthy. But  the silence was deafening with respect to older Americans.

What about assuring older Americans that there will be no cuts in Social Security or Medicaid? How about pledging to address the problem of age discrimination in employment and promising that older Americans will share in the supposed new found prosperity?

In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I write about the impending retirement crisis facing millions of Americans, particularly women and minorities.

According to a 2013 study by Economic Policy Institute  many of America’s 41 million seniors are just one bad economic shock away from significant material hardship. According to the study:

  • Nearly half (48.0 percent) of the elderly population is “economically vulnerable,” defined as having an income that is less than two times the supplemental poverty threshold (a poverty line more comprehensive than the traditional federal poverty line).1 This equates to roughly 19.9 million economically vulnerable seniors.
  • The older elderly—people age 80 and older—have a far higher rate of economic vulnerability (58.1 percent) than people age 65 to 79 (44.4 percent).
  • Women are 10.7 percentage points more likely to fall below two times the supplemental poverty threshold than men (52.6 versus 41.9 percent)
  • The majority of elderly blacks and Hispanics are economically vulnerable: 63.5 percent of blacks and 70.1 percent of Hispanics, age 65 and older, have incomes less than two times the supplemental poverty threshold. In comparison, 43.8 percent of whites are economically vulnerable.

Meanwhile the Employment Benefit Research Institute’s Retirement Readiness Ratings estimates that 41 to 43 percent of Americans are at risk of running out of money in retirement. The EBRI is a private, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute based in Washington, DC, that focuses on health, savings, retirement, and economic security issues.

Obama’s State of the Union address is yet more evidence that older Americans are invisible in America today. No voice speaks on their behalf in the corridors of power and, as a result, their concerns appears to be ignored.