Age discrimination

Maria Enriquez, subrogation technician for the state of Michigan Medicaid program, believes she can perform her job as well as any young person. Unfortunately, she said, employers do not always have such confidence in their older workers.

“Generally speaking, in America, if you’re older you’re useless,” Enriquez said. “Because immediately, age to some people means dysfunctional person or that you can’t do what they can do.”

Experts say age-based discrimination remains a problem even though older workers represent a significant portion of the workforce. Alma Jackson, assistant professor of nursing at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO, cited research showing older workers feel isolated, are not trained as frequently as younger workers, and are not promoted as often “because they’re viewed as being out the door.”

Enriquez tied such treatment to the cultural emphasis on youth. Being undervalued or forced to retire may do more than harm morale. “I think it causes stress, and stress can cause, if you’re not strong enough to handle it, serious mental stress. And that affects your physical health,” Enriquez said.

According to Jackson, studies dispute commonly held negative stereotypes about the mental capabilities of older adults. And cognitive training – exercises to improve attention and processing – can help prevent or reverse some cognitive decline. “You can be productive and hold your intelligence, and it’s not a dismal picture,” Jackson said.

Enriquez agreed. She keeps up with new technology and also brings institutional memory gained from 20 years with the department. “People have to understand that we, as older workers, have something very valuable to contribute,” Enriquez said, “and if people don’t take advantage of it and companies don’t take advantage of it, then shame on them.”

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