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Sept. 30, 2022, 2:46 p.m. EDT

‘Americans don’t believe ageism is real.’ This state wants to stamp it out.

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By Jessica Hall

The state of Maine wants to end ageism in a decade. Really.

In a move to improve the health of Maine’s 1.3 million residents, reduce workforce struggles and improve the economy, the Maine Council on Aging said it launched an initiative to end ageism within 10 years.

Ageism refers to the stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination directed toward people based on their age — no matter what their age might be. It can be institutional, interpersonal or even self-directed. Globally, one in two people are ageist against older people, according to a United Nations report.

Read: The politics of ageism: Some are concerned about candidates’ ages, but others say it’s just another form of bias

It’s also the right thing to do, the council said.

“Americans don’t believe ageism is real. Or that it’s not as bad as the other ‘isms’,” said Jess Maurer, executive director of the Maine Council on Aging. “But it costs us a lot financially. It costs us emotionally. It taxes our health systems. It affects housing. It affects our workforce. It costs us a lot.”

Read: Ageism can lead to social isolation and even early death. ‘We need to begin with the revolutionary idea that we’re all equal and we all belong.’

The Maine Council on Aging set a goal to eliminate ageism in the workplace, in the media, and other leading segments of Maine culture by 2032, in part, through targeted discussions with different business sectors, community leaders, and policy makers. Maine has the oldest population in the U.S .

Eradicating ageism is also important for the health of the economy. A study from AARP found that the lost economic activity from older Americans not being able to find work, change careers, or earn promotions because of age discrimination cost the U.S. economy $850 billion in lost gross domestic product in 2018. In the long-term, age discrimination could cost the U.S. more than $3.9 trillion in 2050, AARP found.

Read: Help wanted: No over-50s need apply

Meanwhile, a Yale University study found that discrimination based on age increased healthcare costs by $63 billion annually.

The Maine Council on Aging isn’t alone. Last year, the World Health Organization announced a global campaign to combat ageism with strategies such as educating people about ageism, fostering intergenerational contacts, and changing policies and laws to promote age equity.

Read: New York City wants its retirees back — and the feeling is mutual. This new program matches jobs with experienced workers.

Why now?

Maurer said the pandemic highlighted society’s prejudice against older people. Seniors with comorbidities were more vulnerable and died in increasing numbers from COVID-19 than younger, healthier people.

“COVID hit us over the head with a two-by-four. ‘Older lives do not have the same value as younger lives.’ People were willing to say that out loud. We knew we had to do something,” said Maurer.

Read: Must be ‘fit and active’ or ‘digital native’: how ageist language keeps older workers out

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