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[orchestral fanfare]

(LIPSYTE)

Coming up on "Life (Part 2)," they fired me because I'm old. Maybe you've said that. But what can you do about it? We'll find out.

And later, for 3 decades he made TV history, and Phil Donahue is still fighting the good fight. Plus, a renowned professor explains why it's always dangerous to label anyone.

All coming up on "Life (Part 2)."

(WOMAN)

Major funding for "Life (Part 2)" was provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies--engaging many to improve the lives of and achieve health and economic security for older adults. And by MetLife Foundation--celebrating the wisdom, talent, and experience of older adults. MetLife Foundation proudly supports "Life (Part 2)."

 [bass, & plucked strings play in playful rhythm; bright in tone]

(LIPSYTE)

Welcome to "Life (Part 2)," I'm Robert Lipsyte, and I want to join the great gladiators. But I can't find them. They must be out there somewhere, a legion of crafty, fearless, butt-kicking Boomers fighting to protect the rights of older folks. After all, the Boomers are going to be older folks themselves soon enough.

The casual ageism of day-to-day life, not to mention public policy, affects everyone. Now, people under 40 are afraid of older folks because one, we know more than they do, and two, most of us aren't as afraid as they are of wearing the wrong clothes, listening to the wrong music, buying the wrong car. This is why the corporations who prey on young people's insecurities make such a big deal of youthfulness. So we're distracted rubbing out wrinkles while the bad guys are trying to rub out Social Security and Medicare. We're worried about whether we're texting and tweeting enough while veteran workers are routinely pushed out to make room for newcomers, who will work cheaper and be more responsive to their baby-faced bosses. Now that's where the great gladiators come in, superheroes senior grade, boycotting, demonstrating, whistle-blowing, going after the politicians, the scammers, the exploiters, the propagandists, who don't want us to figure out that when you have less time to lose, you've got more world to win.

Well, our panelists know all about what it takes to stand up and fight ageism. Vincent Roscigno is Professor of Sociology at Ohio State University. His books include...

Jacquelyn James is the Research Fellow at the Sloan Center on Aging and Work, and the Research Director at the Center for Work and Family at Boston College.Her most recent book is... Michael Harper is Professor of Law at Boston University and a leading authority on labor law and employment discrimination.

Welcome everyone to "Life (Part 2)."

Vinnie, so why does ageism not have the bang that sexism and racism does? I mean, we're all gonna get there.

(VINNIE)

Yeah, we are going to get there, that's why we should all care. Relative to other kinds of discrimination, race discrimination or gender discrimination, we haven't seen a movement in this country to protect aging workers. We've seen law passed to protect them, but no common sense of identity or moral outrage. Despite the fact that age discrimination is, from what I can tell in my research and from other research, pretty prevalent right now.

(LIPSYTE)

Yeah, but why? Jacquie, do people become more timid as they get older, or is this a club they just don't want to join? Why aren't they out there marching?

(JACQUIE)

Yeah, they are timid, but I think it's people do associate aging with frailty and decline, and nobody wants to go there.

(LIPSYTE)

Well what about the laws that Vinnie alluded to? Are they there?

(GUEST)

Well, there is a law proscribing discrimination on the basis of age, and there has been since 1967, the Age Discrimination Employment Act. It's not a category under the '64 Civil Rights Act, which prescribes race, sex, national origin, religion, and color discrimination, but it was added after a study in the '60s.

(LIPSYTE)

Wait a minute, if it's not under that rubric, it doesn't have the same strength and power in law, does it?

(GUEST)

Well, it almost has the same strength, but the defense is a little bit easier for the employer, and that difference can make a difference in some cases.

(LIPSYTE)

Now, let's talk for a moment, because this is your research, Jacquie, about the employer, how do they see the older worker? Is the older worker really less competent, more likely to get sick?

(JACQUIE)

The first thing we have to say when we're talking about older workers is there are vast differences among them. One of the things we know is that as people get older, they are more different from each other than at any other age group.

(LIPSYTE)

Really?!

(GUEST)

Yeah, that may be true, but employers, when they look at workers, both at the point of hiring and at the point of reduction in force, will make generalizations. Who is going to be laid off?

Is it going to be the younger 40-year-old, who they think on the average is going to be there longer? Or the 55-year-old is going to be, and they say well, we gotta have somebody to replace and move up. And so they're making generalizations.

(LIPSYTE)

Are these good generalizations for their purposes? Are these smart, pragmatic moves on their part? I think they are smart, pragmatic moves.

(GUEST)

That's the problem.

(LIPSYTE)

 Ah-ha!

(GUEST)

It's efficient for employers to discriminate. But it may not be efficient for society, because those older workers, many of them would be very effective as individuals if they stayed there longer. And we lose that productivity. I just want to disagree a little bit, though. I don't think it is all that efficient, and I think many employers today are realizing that they're going to need these older workers, because the baby boom is such a large part of the aging workforce, and if they all were to retire in en masse, many organizations would not have the workers they need to replace...

(GUEST)

To an extent, that may be true, but I think that we're kidding ourselves if we put the rosy glasses on and say that all we need to do is have good conversations with employers and enlighten them. I think we need tough laws here, because you need tough laws where it's efficient for an individual business to do something and bad for the system.

(LIPSYTE)

What would be a tough law? We've got laws in place. What would make it tougher?

(GUEST)

I think number one, I think there should be tougher remedies under age discrimination, and number two, I think that there ought to be a prohibition of discriminating against workers because they are making more money. Saying well, the older worker here is making more money, so we're going to prefer the younger manager because we're getting more bang for our buck with the younger manager--that's legal now.

You can't do it on the basis of age, but you can do it on the basis of higher costs.

(LIPSYTE)

You've discovered this in your study, didn't you?

(GUEST)

I think we need to think about whether we can control that. I think there's really something fundamental that has shifted in terms of the worker/employer relationship that you sort of alluded to. It's sort of a fracturing of the social contract, where in the past, employers said we wanted committed workers for a long period of time that would invest in the company, then there was an expectation that the company would give back. But what I've found in the discrimination studies that I've engaged in is employers are doing just this, maybe at increasing rates with globalization and outsourcing, which is laying off or pushing out aging workers because the employer is interested in saving, in terms of health benefits and pension plans. There's something that seems to be, at least to me, morally unjust about that, that is, expecting commitment from an employee, then on the other hand not paying your due as an employer in return. It is illegal under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, EIRSA, to discharge someone because their pension is about ready to vest. So that's also illegal. And the Act also says that it's legal for an employer to reduce your life insurance, your health insurance, or any other benefit cost, with age, as long as they're spending as much on you. Now, we all know life insurance buys less as we grow older, and so as long as they're spending as much on everyone's life insurance, they can reduce the life insurance of the older workers.

(LIPSYTE)

That really is a trick.

(GUEST)

Well, it's gotta be that way. If it's not that way, you're providing another incentive for the employer to get rid of the older worker, as Vinnie was saying.

(LIPSYTE)

So the law for that very reason tries to take away that incentive-- that's smart.

(GUEST)

But I want to say something else, that is, this is all negative about older workers, and I don't see it that way. I think the study that we did of employers, there are positive stereotypes of older workers too. That they're more reliable, that they're loyal to the organization, they have a better work ethic. A lot of people say that. They have experience and networks.

Sometimes people will talk about older workers being good with customers because they know them all. So there are positive stereotypes about older workers as well.

(LIPSYTE)

I would be curious, do these positive aspects of age apply for some, like the loyalty, just to employees who work there? What about older workers who don't work there and they're considering them?

(GUEST)

If it only works for the people who work there, then there isn't much lateral mobility and they better stay working there or they're not going to be able to use their skills someplace else. I think that's one of the reasons older workers do stay when they get someplace and they like it, because they are afraid they won't be able to get a job anywhere else. And they have difficulty. So workers that leave or are pushed out of employment on average have much longer periods of joblessness and unemployment. Then when they get another job, it typically is a lower status job with less benefits and resources. So we do see sort of a slide over the life course.

(Lipsyte)

Now, I know that Michael has been very clear about that we need to strengthen existing laws and maybe even new laws, but sometimes perceptions have to change before that happens. Do you see any movement or any way that we could, other than having graying heroes in prime-time dramas?

(GUEST)

Culture and perceptions lag behind all else, unfortunately. Sometimes movements, the Women's Movement, Civil Rights Movement, sort of mass movements, actually jolt those perceptual changes.

(LIPSYTE)

Vinnie, just how hard is it for people to claim ageism, to own up to the fact that I'm old, and they offed me because of that?

(GUEST)

Well, it is difficult. I mean, aging workers don't want to complain. They don't want to assume that it's age, and I'm being treated this way because of my age.

(LIPSYTE)

We're talking about the human cost of all of this which, it seems ironically you found out in response to your research even more than your research.

(GUEST)

Yeah, that's right, that's right. So the research started out wanting to look at what the employment costs were. There were plenty of people getting pushed out of their jobs, all of a sudden having to worry about sending their kids to college even, because their income was all of a sudden evaporated.

As these findings got some coverage in newspapers, one of the most surprising elements of the research was, coming into my office for about 2 months straight and every day having voices on my answering machine from aging workers all over the country calling me to tell me that this is what's going on with me.

Of course, I returned as many calls as I could. Some were asking advice, what can I do about it, but some really just wanted somebody to talk to. It made me quite obviously aware that there is really not a national dialogue or even support systems for aging workers. And what was striking was, I went in thinking that the cost was going to be financial, my job, but for a lot of these people the costs were deeply social psychological.

A term I heard multiple times is, "I feel like I've been scarred." I would follow up and say, what do you mean by that? "Emotionally scarred-- I feel like I lost my family and my identity." In some cases, it wasn't the workers, it was a family member.

I recall a woman calling me to talk about her mother, who at 60, was pushed out. She really was facing a hostile environment. They isolated her, they gave her the worst job tasks, and they pushed her out the door. And I said, what is upsetting to your mother? Is she looking for other employment? She said sure, she's been looking for other employment since, but she comes home every day and she cries to me, and it's not over income. It's about the fact that she lost her sense of importance. She felt betrayed by her company. She's lost her friends, she's lost her identity. She saw herself--her occupation was very much tied to her identity, she took a lot of pride in it.

It's something we tend not to look at even as social scientists, this sort of long-term psychological scarring. It's easy to caption--you lost your job, you lost your income--that's easily measurable.

But the psychological scarring is really what... And it ought to be compensated for by the law. Absolutely. It definitely should be, and it's more difficult in age discrimination than it is in race and sex.

(LIPSYTE)

Was there a sex breakdown?

(GUEST)

You know, that was interesting, not really. It was about 50/50 male and female. It was distributed between managers, low-skill workers, mid-skill workers, and proportionate by race. So the conclusion is that age discrimination is an equal opportunity form of inequality, and discrimination is going to affect us all.

(LIPSYTE)

Well, I think maybe the ultimate secret is just as you get older, hide all the keys to the vault and don't give it back!

Thank you all so much for joining us on "Life (Part 2)."

Donahue was one of my role models of journalism and manhood. I watched him on TV discussing women's liberation and gay rights and so many issues that engaged Phil before the rest of us were even tuned into them. He was on the air for 29 years, and he won 20 Emmys. When we sat down, we began by discussing his documentary "Body of War," an unflinching look at the life and politics of a young man who was paralyzed in Iraq after only one week's deployment.

Phil Donahue, welcome to "Life (Part 2)."

I watched your documentary, "Body of War," over the weekend, and it was overwhelming, this kind of double track, the personal and the political, senators fulminating about whether or not we should go to war, and then the cost of that war. A boy in his 5th day, shot, and now in a wheelchair; it seemed to me that that melding of personal and political was quintessential Donahue.

(PHIL)

Well, thank you. I didn't I didn't think of it in those terms, but I appreciate your analysis here, and I'm flattered by it. I met Thomas Young at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was 24 years old at the time. He didn't meet me, by the way, he was totally drugged on morphine. His mother, as we stood next to the bed, explained to me the nature of his injury. Thomas is a T-4, which if you put your hand like this, just go down as far as you can, touch your spine, that's T-4. He is paralyzed from the nipples down. That's where the bullet severed his spine. Thomas can't walk, Thomas can't cough. Thomas has morning nausea. Thomas has bowel and bladder problems. Thomas has erectile dysfunction. 20-something male, prime of life, and I just couldn't get him out of my head, and the result was "Body of War," a look at the close-up of what "harm" really means in "harm's way," and woven through how we got there.

(LIPSYTE)

The same weekend that I watched your documentary, I also reread your 30-year-old memoir "My Own Story," which meant, believe it or not, meant much more to me as an older person than it did when I originally read it almost 30 years ago. You were such a liberal icon of that time, kind of encouraging and guiding a generation. It must be very satisfying right now to realize what an impact you had.

(PHIL)

I have to say that one of the big kicks for the old gray-haired guy, walkin' through an airport--I can't tell you how often this has happened--"Thank you, Mr. Donahue. Because of you, your show, I came out to my parents." "Thank you, Mr. Donahue. Because of you, I got out of an abusive relationship." You know, that's about as nice a-- that makes my day. But you are some 30 years older, and... I'm 73! You can say that. I mean, I can say that; you're too polite. You're much too well-raised, just announce my age, thank you.

(LIPSYTE)

Is anything physically different?

(PHIL)

What?!

(LIPSYTE)

That's good.

(PHIL)

I could show you my hearing aid, right? Guys says, I got the best hearing aid. There is no other hearing aid in the world made like--we got the Japanese technology with the Swiss assembly and the solid state! And his buddy said, wow! What kind is it? And the guy said, it's 20 after 5!

(LIPSYTE)

That's an ageist joke, we don't allow this on the show.

(PHIL)

But I'm allowed now. So, hearing, I'm going to have to go to the battery very shortly. And short-term memory. What did you say? Everybody walks into a room and says why am I here? It happens now, it's happening more frequently. And it's harder to get out of the car. I feel embarrassed. Come on! What's the matter with you? Drag... Your knees are stiff, your back hurts.

(LIPSYTE)

Uh-huh. Yeah.

I mean, you've just come through this creative process. Would it have been different 30 years ago? Were you not wiser, made quicker and more informed judgments than you might have once? I'm looking for the good news.

(PHIL)

Well, yes, absolutely. My long and blessed and happy life, and all those experiences, imagine, think about how lucky I've been. I mean, we interviewed everybody, and my name was on the show. It was a tremendous ego trip; it was fabulous. And I do bring all that experience.

(LIPSYTE)

Do you miss that now?

(PHIL)

I don't miss the everyday of it, clean shirt and jumpin', you know. And don't forget, we worked hard at keeping that audience alive. You can't just go out there and then when you say we'll be back in a moment-that in my day was a 2-1/2-minute...

(LIPSYTE)

Yeah, but I mean, do you miss the warm in your face? You know, the a... Never having to have people say, "So, what are you doing these days?"

(PHIL)

Yeah, it happens to me all the time now. "Why don't you have a show?" And I say, we did 6000 of these shows. And a little voice after that says, sit down now, they've heard you speak. It's nice not to jump out of a cake every day, which I did for 29 years, and happy to have done so. As I say, I'm not complaining at all.

But, you know, 29 years--please, go play golf.

(LIPSYTE)

Yeah, but you've got all this stuff, all this thoughts.

(PHIL)

I do, and I haven't hidden under a rock.

Also, I'm speaking. I get up. I am able to pop off. I'm invited. I'm out there meeting a lot of nice people and trying to allow my voice to be heard. I'm out there exercising my constitutional right to say, "I dissent."

(LIPSYTE)

So you're not having a show is more of a loss for us than it is for you.

(PHIL)

Well, thank you for that.

(LIPSYTE)

That's why we still need you, Phil, to make people brave.

(PHIL)

[chuckles]

Well, thank you.

(LIPSYTE)

Thank you so much for joining us on "Life (Part 2)." Thank you, Bob. Here's another clear-eyed teacher. Edward Mendelson is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His many books include...

We asked him to discuss the ways that literature reveals truths that can't be expressed as well anywhere else.

(EDWARD)

The most important thing literature has to say about human lives is that they're stories, stories held together by deep connections between everything that came before, everything that happens now, and everything that still might happen. No matter how familiar the outline of the story might seem, you can't predict exactly what happens next, and there's always an opening for change and surprise.

Literature never treats a human life as something you could put a label on. I've noticed a label that gets used a lot about older people these days, sometimes by older people themselves. It begins with G, it ends with R, and it rhymes with Caesar, and it's as ugly and demeaning as any racial or sexual epithet.

The point of putting a label on a human life is to reduce itfrom a story to a condition, something predictable, something that won't ever change, something that isn't free to choose its own future. Now, when literature tells a story about old age, it tends to be surprising and even exhilarating.

For example, Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse," one of the greatest English novels of the 20th century, toward the end of the book, the old widower, Mr. Ramsay, insisted his teenage son James come with him as they row out to the lighthouse near their summer home by the shore. Everyone thinks of Mr. Ramsay as a domineering old tyrant who wants only to get his own way. But Virginia Woolf tells us that he wants his son to come with him because, Mrs. Ramsay, James' mother, had so wanted them to go to the lighthouse together the last time they were here 10 years ago, just before she died.

In the end, James steers the boat expertly, like a born sailor, and it's the first independent triumph that he's ever achieved. And it's Mr. Ramsay's triumph too. He succeeds at last in being a father.

So if you label Mr. Ramsay, you get him wrong. He's someone whose story grows out of his commitments to the past, but he knows it's never too late to find the way to a new and different future. Like all great literature, this novel is a fiction that points to a profound truth.

(LIPSYTE)

Nice piece, Professor. I'll never call myself "geezer" again. How about "codger?"

For now, that's it for "Life (Part 2)." Thanks for joining us. I'm Robert Lipsyte. See you next time, older and better.

(WOMAN)

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(WOMAN)

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[laughs]

(WOMAN)

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(WOMAN)

Funding was provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies--engaging many to improve the lives of and achieve health and economic security for older adults. And by MetLife Foundation--celebrating the wisdom, talent, and experience of older adults. MetLife Foundation proudly supports "Life (Part 2)."

(WOMAN)

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