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We need a better perspective on ageism

When you were young, you probably saw older people as different from you. Depending on your perspective, you may have honored them as deep compendiums of valuable knowledge. Or, maybe you judged them as examples of a dying, outmoded system.

As you've grown older yourself -- maybe now you're an alleged "old person." You've probably noticed how the world looks at you differently, and you might not like it in all cases, especially in your job. When employers discriminate against older people, it can have negative and unjust consequences. In fact, ageism -- or age discrimination -- is unlawful.

CEO Ted Surh describes "ageism" concisely in a recent letter

The President and CEO of the Agency of Aging of South Central Connecticut Ted Surh published an open letter on ageism on the agency's website. In it, he offers a brief history of ageism, why it's a problem and why it's unfair.

According to Surh, the term ageism was first used by Dr. Robert Butler to illuminate a very specific problem: the widespread and widely accepted act of discriminating against older individuals. In the late 60s, Butler claimed that ageism was not very different from sexism and racism.

It's important to note that our society has done a lot to bring more equality to the races and sexes during the last 45 years, but it has done little -- if anything -- to address the problem of age discrimination. The end result is that older adults are devalued in our society and in our workplaces, and they are often unable to live their fullest potential.

Did you know that workers over the age of 55 spend an extra five months looking for a job on average? Did you know that 75 percent of the people who died during the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe were 60 years of age or older? Surh references these statistics and points to the trend of local governments and communities cutting special programs for seniors that support them in being active and healthy participants in the community.

Older people deserve the fulfillment of employment

Why does society pity an older person who has a job at a grocery store? Why do people refer to older men and women as "cute," when it has the effect of disempowering them, making them appear helpless when they are far from it? We must strive not to stereotype an older person and -- just like we have taken great strides to not judge someone by skin color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or other superficial factors -- it's important to do the same in respect to age.

Have you been hurt by age discrimination?

Although society and employers don't always recognize the law in this regard, older people can receive protection from age discrimination under state and federal laws. If you lost your job, lost an opportunity, or were discriminated against in your career because of your age, be sure to learn more about your legal rights, and the options available to protect those rights.

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