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Make Age Part of Legislative Focus


To the Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights and Inclusion

of the Massachusetts Legislature

From Doug Dickson, Board Chair, Encore Boston Network

June 14, 2021

My name is Doug Dickson and I am submitting this testimony as Board Chair of Encore Boston Network. We are a community-based, nonprofit organization that helps people over 50 find opportunities to make a difference through work, service and social action. Our mission includes identifying and combatting ageism and age discrimination as barriers to employment, civic engagement, community service and social activism. Our work also includes specific attention to the way these barriers affect communities of color as well as low-income and immigrant communities.

We applaud the formation of the Joint Committee and its mandate to address racial equity, civil rights and inclusion in Massachusetts. As part of this focus, we strongly urge that the committee include age as a key dimension of equity and inclusion. All of us, if we are fortunate to live long enough, will face age discrimination in some form in our lives. This is especially true for people of color and others who have also been marginalized in some other way. Ageism has broad consequences and eliminating it can generate enormous benefits.

There are three reasons we believe that age demands and deserves your attention.

  • Age intersects with other identities, like race and gender, in ways that magnify the negative impact of discriminatory behavior. For example, older workers lost more jobs during the Coronavirus pandemic than younger workers for the first time in any labor force downturn in 50 years. But the impact on older Black and other workers of color was even greater. Studies show that recovery from job loss for people with more than one marginalized identity is harder and takes longer, placing these individuals at a greater relative disadvantage. For these people, focusing on racial equity alone without also addressing age equity will not protect them against unfair employment decisions or put them on equal footing for rehiring.
  • The existing talent pool of workers is not large enough to meet employer needs now or into the future. Already in the current recovery, there are indications of shortages in many businesses and industries. To get back on track, our economy and society will need to engage older adults as key players in the recovery. But that means thinking and acting differently in addressing underlying attitudes, structural barriers, training needs and job search support, all of which are affected by age bias. Many older people want and need to work — their economic security depends on it — but are not given the opportunity to fairly compete for jobs. Since this population is the only growing human capital resource available to employers, we must find ways to bring them back into our economy.
  • As with other inequities, age bias has negative effects on health and well-being. Shunted to the margins of society, many older people fall victim to higher rates of depression, dementia, heart disease, cancer and other diseases. They also risk becoming isolated and lonely, which research shows raises health risks equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Internalizing negative messages about aging reduces life expectancy by an average of 7.5 years. On the other hand, work and purposeful engagement has been demonstrated to reverse these outcomes. The clear conclusion is that ageism costs society in two ways: a) it adds to overall healthcare and related costs born by our society, and b) it denies the economic and social contributions of older adults to our society.

As one of the first age-friendly states and as an epicenter of the age-friendly community movement initiated by the World Health Organization and fostered in the US by AARP, Massachusetts is in a strong position to tackle ageism and its intersection with other aspects of equity and inclusion in our state. The age-friendly model, which includes respect and social inclusion, social participation, employment and civic participation, community support and health services, housing, transportation, communication and information, could also serve as a framework for the Joint Committee’s agenda.

We therefore urge the Joint Committee to include age as a critical issue of equity and inclusion in our society and economy, but also an intersecting issue that exacerbates racial and other inequities. Older people deserve to be fully protected by our laws as well as by our common sense of fairness. We stand ready to answer questions and to provide additional information about each of these points.

Doug Dickson, Board Chair

Encore Boston Network