A little less than 2 weeks ago, the House passed H.R. 1230, Bobby Scott's Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act. Every single Democrat plus 34 Republicans voted for it.
Who could possibly be against protecting older workers from discrimination? Well, let's start with the 154 Republicans who voted against it, including the entire GOP House leadership, as well as extreme ideologues like Ken Calvert, Devin Nunes, Lee Zeldin, Greg Gianforte to mention a few. And then there's Mitch McConnell, who is refusing to even allow a debate and vote in the Senate, calling it "socialist." Where does this opposition to older workers come from?
Dan Levitin is a distinguished neuroscientist, psychology professor and author. His new book, Successful Aging was released Dutton last week. More about the book in a moment. While Dan and I were corresponding about H.R. 1230, he wrote that
"In 2020, it is clear that we still find a great deal of bigotry and repression again our fellow citizens. Fortunately, most of the 'isms' have become part of the national conversation: racism, sexism, prejudice against LGBTQ individuals, members of various religions and countries. One pernicious and insidious form of bigotry persists without any significant organized national conversation: agism. It is desperately hard for someone over the age of 55 to receive a promotion or be hired into a new job. With the extraordinary advances in health and medical science, we’re not just living longer than ever, but healthier than ever. For the first time, there are more Americans over 65 than under 5. And neuroscience research is clear that continuing to work into our 80s and beyond is neuroprotective, helping to fend off Alzheimer’s and a range of diseases. As our societal narrative tends to marginalize older adults, it has not kept pace with scientific developments. Older adults have superior problem solving and pattern matching skills, tend to be more compassionate and tolerant, and to find solutions that elude their younger counterparts. What would it mean to treat older adults as a resource rather than a burden? It would mean harnessing the wisdom and compassion of a growing segment of the population whom we have tended to marginalize. Working older adults would continue to contribute to social security rather than drawing from it."
State Rep. Tom Winter is a progressive Democrat running for Montana's one statewide congressional seat. He told me he's well aware that our society’s ageism is a silent enforcer of wealth and class disparities.
"People all over the country talk about the idea of the 'New West'-- cities like Bozeman or Missoula or Boulder or Boise-- that are driving growth and attracting new residents. But that growth is fundamentally unequal in so many ways. The hallmark of rural Montana beyond those growing cities is an aging population, and we need a politics, and a worldview, that responds to the needs of older adults and values the contributions they can make. We must stop viewing economic growth as keyed to younger workers. To do that is to perpetuate our society’s ageism and increase the inequality of opportunity in rural communities across my state and the country."
Dan wrote that his research reveals that our societal narrative about aging is false and out of date. The book's premise is that old age need not be a time of decline and irrelevance, but rather, a time of increased creativity, improvement in problem-solving skills, and full of meaning. He explodes several myths including the myth of failing memory, and the myth of old age depression. He wrote that "Across 72 countries the peak age of happiness is 82." He's hoping that the book will help change the conversation and he's trying to make the point that agism is one of the last biases that we tolerate in society. As he said above, it's difficult for older adults to get a job or get promoted. Two-thirds of American workers said they had witnessed or experienced age discrimination at work. "Employers should recognize that offering opportunities to older workers is smart business," he wrote, "not just a feel-good, charitable act. Multigenerational teams with older members tend to be more productive; older adults boost the productivity of those around them, and such teams outperform single-generational ones."
Singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash wrote that Successful Aging "is the book I need now. This is probably the book you need now. Levitin beautifully weaves hard science with more subtle, subjective agents of change-- compassion, friendship, the redemptive power of work-- into a refreshing guide for those of us navigating the penultimate stage of life."
Dan gave me three autographed copies of Successful Aging to help in our efforts to raise some contributions for Tom Winter's campaign. It doesn't matter how much you contribute but any contribution that comes in for Tom on this page or at the 2020 Blue America congressional thermometer on the right, before Wednesday 1/29 at 6pm (PT) will give you a chance to win one of the autographed books.
We're going to select three winners at random. You don't have to live in Montana and you don't have to be an older voter. Anyone can give it a try.
Tom's a great candidate anyway and you can read more about him on his own website here. His campaign is fueled by issues like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, expanding labor rights, housing for all and criminal justice reform.