Linda Valdez: Damaging and well entrenched prejudices about getting older could hurt millions of us, despite a recent court ruling on age discrimination.
I got up from the table with what I thought was in inaudible creak.
“Are you OK?” asked the earnest young man next to me.
“Sure,” I said in a friendly tone. “It’s just old age.”
Hey. A person gets stiff sitting through a long lecture. I’m not ashamed of it.
What a young guy said about aging
He reacted like I’d said something truly alarming.
“I’m not going there,” he said emphatically.
I knew what he meant, but I responded to what he said.
“Yes, you are,” I told him. “You just keep going and you’ll get there.”
(Unless you get hit by a truck on your way home, I thought.)
Old age is a destination that beats the alternative.
I don’t mind if you call me old (really)
I’m well on my way.
I turned 65 in January. (And it was remarkably easy – even though waitresses have developed a mildly disturbing tendency to call me “Honey.”)
I call myself old.
Because I’m nobody’s euphemism.
I’m not elderly. Aged. Or vintage.
I’ve lived. That takes a toll on the body while providing some perspective to the heart — and maybe a touch of wisdom to the head. Maybe. Eventually. I keep hoping.
It’s time to think differently
Being young was great. But it’s time people stopped stereotyping old as a bad thing.
A new perception of age is essential for practical reasons. People my age are going to be competing for jobs with younger folks. Image matters in our culture.
- Two groups of workers – those in the 65- to 74-year-old range and those 75-and-older – are expected to have faster annual rates of growth in the U.S. labor force than any other age groups, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- By 2024, the U.S. labor force will include about 164 million people – of whom 41 million will be 55 and older and 13 million will be 65 and older, says BLS.
Damaging stereotypes limit options
Some will fight damaging and well entrenched prejudices as they try to find and keep good jobs.
An April 26 ruling from the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals could help.
The case involves Dale Kleber, who had 25 years of relevant experience when he applied for a job with CareFusion Corp.
But the job description said applicants could have no more than seven years of experience, which put more experienced (older) applicants at a disadvantage.
Kleber didn’t get an interview. A 29‐year‐old got the job.
Tough luck? Not so fast
A lower court told him “tough luck,” federal age-discrimination protections don’t apply to job applicants.
The appeals court reversed that and said he can sue.
But it won’t end here.
This ruling conflicts with one from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which said in 2016 that job applicants did not have the right to sue.
The Supreme Court declined to review that case, according to reporting by the National Law Journal.
The Supreme Court can settle this now
Now that there two opposing appeals court rulings, the Supremes are more likely to get involved.
If Kleber ultimately wins, it will be a victory for age equality.
But the court’s age discrimination ruling not only sets up a Supreme Court battle, and it also raises questions about how we define old in a nation where the median age continues to rise.
In the recently decided appeals court case, the alleged age discrimination happened when the man was 58 years old – a mere child to the 10,000 baby boomers who turn 65 every day.
Typical baby boomers say old age begins at 72, according the Pew Research Center.
Who defines old? It’s subjective
So what is old? And is it so bad that we should talk about it only in euphemisms?
Will baby boomers be grumpy old geezers in denial? Or happily embrace the new age of being old?
Can’t we make aging hip?
When it comes to the pursuit of happiness, the answer will matter as much as legal protections.
Reach Valdez at [email protected]
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