The Big Disconnect

Signs-g25410ada2_1920In my previous post, I wrote about the fact that a growing percentage of Boomers seemed to be retiring from the workforce while, at the same time, there was a significant increase in Boomers working for themselves. I drew the conclusion that many Boomers may be looking at work differently, redefining what we think of as work. Some of them may be opting out of a traditional full-time job working for someone else in favor of full- or part-time self-employment.

Lurking behind this conclusion, however, is a stark reality that many Boomers may be pursuing non-traditional work because they have no choice. The fact is there is a problem of perception in the workplace, both in the United States and elsewhere. It centers around another topic I've addressed frequently: Ageism.

In "Older Workers to the Rescue? Why Boomers May be the Answer to the Big Quit," an article recently published by Newsweek, Bradley Schurman confirms my belief about Boomer gig work by citing statistics from the Pew Research Center: "...20 percent of gig workers in the U.S.—from freelance consultants to Uber drivers—are over the age of 50, and nearly a third of those are over the age of 65."

Schurman notes that in the post-World War II American workplace of 1950, "nearly one out of two men over the age of 65 were in the formal labor market." He asks whether employers will take advantage of the huge over-65 labor pool available to them today, but he writes, "Nothing will change, though, unless employers abandon hiring and firing practices that favor the young." He goes on to say, "Hiring managers, in particular, must remove coded language like 'recent college graduate,' as well as the requisite number of years of experience from job postings. They also need to get out of the rut of assuming that an older worker is 'overqualified,' technologically illiterate or only going to stick around for a few years."

On the positive side, Schurman suggests that a major demographic shift could affect how employers view older workers: "The labor force participation rate for people over the age of 75 is expected to grow by nearly 100 percent by 2030, according to the BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics]. In contrast, the total workforce will only expand by about 5 percent, and the 16-24 age group will likely decline, thanks to decades of contracting birth rates."

Perhaps this shift will, as Schurman surmises, finally force employers to recognize the value of hiring Boomer employees instead of viewing them as obsolete workers. With millions of jobs to fill, it's only a matter of time before employers realize millions of qualified Boomers are ready, able and willing to work. Until then, however, there will continue to be a big disconnect between the age-discrimination hiring practices of most employers and the availability of capable, experienced job-seeking Boomers.

Image: Pixabay.com

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"Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off to Work We Go" -- or Is It?

The_Seven_Dwarfs_DisneyAs of the third quarter of 2021, 50.3% of U.S. adults 55 and older said they were out of the labor force due to retirement, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the most recent official labor force data. In the third quarter of 2019, before the onset of the pandemic, 48.1% of those adults were retired. In regard to specific age groups, in the third quarter of 2021 66.9% of 65- to 74-year-olds were retired, compared with 64.0% in the same quarter of 2019.

The data regarding entrepreneurs tell a different story, however. According to the Kauffman Foundation, the trend in the age of entrepreneurs over the past twenty-five years represents a substantial shift towards more participation of older entrepreneurs: In 1996, 14.8% of entrepreneurs were 55-64 years old and by 2020, 24.5% were 55-64 years old. An article in NextAvenue indicates that Guidant Financial and the Small Business Trends Alliance, in its 2021 Small Business Trends (a survey of over 2,400 current and aspiring small business owners nationwide), report that Boomers account for 41% of small business owners (currently between ages 57 and 75) and Generation X for 46% (41 to 56 years old).

Looking at these data together, one might conclude that a significant portion of the Boomer generation is leaving the traditional workforce -- that is, working for someone else -- and possibly entering the self-employed workplace. Today, self-employment could be defined in a number of different ways. It could be starting a full-time business or a part-time business. It could also be setting up a freelance business in which an individual works on a project or hourly basis. So many of these "gig" businesses fly under the statistical radar that it might be difficult to even know how many older adults are involved in such enterprises.

It may look like the majority of Boomers are retiring, but how many of them are instead just changing the way they look at work? Perhaps a number of them are now viewing work as optional rather than mandatory. Those Boomers who retire from the traditional workforce may be figuring out how to combine part-time work with volunteering and leisure time. They could be drawing Social Security and taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from retirement funds to live on and working part-time more for satisfaction than for income. If this is the case, as I suspect it is, then many Boomers have indeed fundamentally changed the very nature of retirement. They're going off to work... but in a whole new way.

Image from 1958 trailer for Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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"Rewiring" with Purpose

Austin-chan-ukzHlkoz1IE-unsplashSince I began writing this blog almost seven years ago, I've promoted the idea of rewiring instead of retiring. To me, "rewiring" means approaching our second act in life as an opportunity to refresh our perspective. It means recognizing how to pursue another path while leveraging the talents we have and the experience we've gained in our first act.

The typical Boomer has spent his or her adult life working. The most fortunate of us found jobs which turned into careers or professions. Perhaps we have been rewarded financially. Hopefully, we've gained satisfaction for a job well done. Even better, we've achieved a sense of purpose.

So how do we meet the fundamental challenge of rewiring with purpose? I'm certainly not the first to address this question.

Books have been written on this very subject, such as Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old?: The Path of Purposeful Aging by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro, published last year. In an interview with Nancy Collamer for NextAvenue, Leider said purpose "is the answer to the question, 'Why do you get up in the morning?' ... Everyone has a purpose, but it rarely just reveals itself. You have to make a choice to discover your purpose, be curious and make connections with others. It's an iterative process that unfolds over time and changes with age, so it's important to reassess your purpose on a regular basis."

Leider adds, "If you are going to continue to grow as you age, you need to reexamine your gifts. Ask yourself: What do I really love to do? What do I want my legacy to be? Then, think about how you can best use those gifts to solve a pressing problem, help someone out or make a contribution to others. When you do that, you'll place yourself along the path to purposeful aging."

Investment adviser Brian Skrobonja, writing for Kiplinger, shares similar advice about purpose in the form of three specific action steps:

Action #1: Reinvent Yourself
"The transition of retirement is not the destination; it is the transition to what is next.  It is your opportunity to reinvent yourself and live out the second half of your life with purpose."

Action #2: Reframe Your Mindset About Money
"The measurement for your success should be on how much income you can generate from your assets that is consistent and predictable. It’s income from your assets that grants you freedom of money and time so you can dedicate your talents to pursue your purpose."

Action #3: Reframe Your Mindset of Time
"You have a choice: You can live as if you have been set out to pasture to retire or you can live as if you are just entering your second half of your life. Your future reality is created in your mind, and whatever you focus on expands."

Of course, there is no magic formula for discovering your post-career purpose. It is highly personal and individualized. For some, it could be new found activism inspired by past activism; this is what Third Act founder Bill McKibben exhorts us to do.

Discovering your purpose may take some time -- and it is likely to be an ongoing process. That isn't a bad thing: It's just the nature of rewiring, instead of retiring.

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How Realistic is an Intergenerational America?

Jana-sabeth-snDUMdYF7o8-unsplashThink for a moment about the typical Boomer childhood. We Boomers probably grew up in neighborhoods where we got to know not just our friends, but our friends' parents, uncles, aunts and even grandparents. In our own families, it wasn't unusual to have older generations living close by or even in the same household. As a toddler, I regularly interacted with my grandparents and other older relatives. 

Today things are very different. Instead of experiencing this close-knit intergenerational bonding, modern families are typically spread out across cities or regions. Even though people are living longer, young children don't seem to be intimately involved with the elderly nearly as much as in previous times. As a result, these kids may not be growing up with an understanding or empathy for older generations.

A series of essays in the Stanford Social Innovation Review has explored this issue in detail; I've written about a number of intergenerational programs mentioned in those essays that show promise. In the final essay in the series, "Rebuilding an Age-Integrated Society," Marci Alboher and Eunice Lin Nichols write, "Today, most younger people are in school, middle-age people are at work, and older people are in age-restricted communities; their lives rarely intersect. This restructuring has left the country ill-prepared for a world with more Americans living longer lives and more generations living at the same time."

Alboher and Nichols have identified four necessary ingredients to help renew the notion of an intergenerational America:

  1. A new mindset
    The authors write that "Individuals and organizations can begin to make an intergenerational shift by committing to a new mindset—an asset-based lens that combats ageism and leverages the complementary aspirations, gifts, and contributions of old and young."
  2. More money
    Funding for intergenerational programs, whether it is from government or philanthropic organizations, is urgently needed.
  3. A supportive policy environment
    For intergenerational programs to be sustainable, "policies that incentivize intergenerational connection" are required.
  4. A research agenda
    The authors indicate that "Innovators piloting new intergenerational models need research that can drive improvements in practice, and help make the case for expansion and investment."

Alboher and Nichols point out that a model for intergenerational society already exists "in many Indigenous cultures, immigrant communities, and communities of color..." and they suggest we must learn from them:

"We must learn from proven intergenerational traditions and practices, and remix them for modern times, creating a vibrant new social contract that reflects the multigenerational and multicultural reality that is already reshaping the American landscape, and that will be a hallmark of the 21st century."

If we can meet the challenge of age segregation and recreate the age-integrated society of the past, it could have a lasting, beneficial impact on all of us.

Note: Please see the comment below from one of our readers who asks some intriguing questions!

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How to "Reframe Aging"

Picture-frame-755804Bias against older people, or ageism, is a societal ill. It is prevalent in the workplace and in everyday life. Some of it is the result of implicit bias -- a phenomenon that obscures self-awareness. According to the non-profit Project Implicit, "People don’t always say what’s on their minds. One reason is that they are unwilling. ...The difference between being unwilling and unable is the difference between purposely hiding something from someone and unknowingly hiding something from yourself."

Whether ageism is implicit or explicit, people over age 55 experience it in both subtle and obvious ways. What can we do about that? One strategy is to engage in a process known as "reframing." The Reframing Aging Initiative offers a wealth of information and resources to facilitate the process. Funders of the first phase of the initiative included AARP, Endowment for Health and The Retirement Research Foundation. Here is a brief description of the initiative's mission:

"The Reframing Aging Initiative is a long-term social change endeavor designed to improve the public’s understanding of what aging means and the many ways that older people contribute to our society. This greater understanding will counter ageism and guide our nation’s approach to ensuring supportive policies and programs for us all as we move through the life course."

One of the initiative's communications tools, "You Say, They Think," is an eye-opening glimpse at some misunderstandings and ignorance about aging. For example, when an aging expert says, "Ageism must be treated as a serious social issue so that older people can participate fully as workers and citizens," some listeners may think, "Ageism? Is that a real thing?" The responsibility of the aging expert is to respond appropriately, following guidelines such as these:

- Use the value Justice to prime people to think about our cultural commitment to equality for everyone.
- Define “implicit bias.” Research shows that simply explaining what it is and how it works can be effective in reducing people’s bias against older people.
- Offer an explanatory example, like workplace discrimination, to show how ageism works and how it affects us all.
- Share specific Solutions to expand people’s thinking about what can be done.

I offer this example from the Reframing Aging initiative not in an attempt to turn all of us into aging experts, but rather to illustrate the importance of addressing ageism when each of us personally faces age discrimination.

The social justice movements we witnessed and may have participated in growing up -- whether it was civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, etc. -- identified and exposed inequities that existed for a long time. While we as a society have not solved all of these inequities, such movements succeeded in raising the level of consciousness and bringing important issues to the forefront. Perhaps we, too, need a movement to identify and expose ageism. I like to think that each of us can play a role in making that happen.

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A Few Major Takeaways from the "2021 Century Summit"

Screen Shot 2022-01-13 at 2.01.02 PMIn early December, I attended sessions from the online "2021 Century Summit," which was convened by the Longevity Project in collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity. One of the topics covered was "The New Map of Life," which I discussed in a previous post. Now I want to share some major takeaways from the Century Summit that I think will have a major bearing on how we Boomers face the future.

Dealing with longevity
One key issue raised numerous times was increasing longevity. According to one speaker, when you consider the average 65-year old couple, one of them has a 50 percent chance of living to age 93. While 50 percent of people say they want to live to 100, 60 percent say they are more fearful of outliving their assets than they are of death. Living longer has a significant impact on how nations around the world deal with aging populations, and it will undoubtedly affect social safety nets and programs for the elderly in the future. On an individual basis, as many Boomers anticipate living longer, their major concerns will revolve around health and financial security. Boomers will be challenged to not just get to retirement but to live through retirement.

Flexible work life
Close to 70 percent of older people say they want to continue to work. Some Boomers will have to work almost indefinitely because of financial needs. Even those who believe they are financially secure may want to continue working to lead purposeful lives. The result is a whole new definition of work life. Many Boomers want to weave together work, education, volunteering and leisure into a more flexible work life. They will have to find ways to restructure their lives to live differently from before. One positive development is that employers are currently so anxious to find workers that they could be willing to hire older workers on a flexible part-time basis. An increasing number of employers also recognize that inclusive and diverse workplaces are better, and that older workers are statistically proven to stay longer and take less time off than younger workers. Another positive development is that Americans over age 55 are driving the establishment of small businesses.

Aging at home
Over 80 percent of older Americans own a home and a significant number of them intend to stay in their current homes and "age in place." The reality, however, may demand thinking differently. Boomers who have lived in the same house for decades may find existing stairs too difficult to navigate, empty rooms inefficient and an accumulation of material possessions unnecessary. That could make downsizing attractive. Some new ways of accommodating an aging population are in development and more are coming in the future. One speaker discussed the growing demand for non-age segregated communities that promote intergenerational living. For example, some retirement communities are set up on or near college campuses and others are adjacent to daycare centers. Expect this trend to continue.

The above are just a handful of observations from this eye-opening summit. The link below provides access to recordings of all of the sessions held at the 2021 Century Summit.

https://www.longevity-project.com/century-summit-december-2021

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Growing Old in America: A Reality Check

Pexels-marcus-aurelius-6787440If you currently draw Social Security benefits, you'll notice a 5.9 percent increase in your monthly check beginning in 2022. It's the most substantial COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustment) for older Americans in thirty years. At the same time, if your health insurance is original Medicare, the standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B increases from $148.50 to $170.10, in addition to an increase in the Part B annual deductible from $203 to $233.

This is a good example of one of the major dilemmas of growing old in America, especially for those who are on a fixed income. As the government giveth, the government taketh away. For many of us, the bump in Social Security will quickly be eaten up by inflationary prices along with the rise in Medicare costs.

Perhaps more to the point, the push-and-pull relationship of Social Security and Medicare is symbolic of the under-appreciation of America's elders. Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, expressed it very well in his recent opinion piece for The Hill entitled "It Shouldn't be This Hard to Grow Old in America." He wrote:

"The idea of growing old in America today is becoming more uncertain and even scary, and it shouldn't be. This is one of the wealthiest nations on earth. While many seniors are fortunate to have adequate retirement income, affordable health care, and the means to live independently after decades of working, millions of others do not. ...

The two bedrock social insurance programs of the 20th century - Social Security and Medicare - have not been sufficiently updated to reflect seniors' 21st century needs (though serious efforts finally are underway in Congress to do so).  ...

Expanding Medicare and Social Security and allowing prescription price negotiation have overwhelming support from majorities of Americans across party lines. We should not have to fight to enact commonsense improvements for our most vulnerable citizens. ...

Aging in America should never be an intimidating prospect for anyone. Whatever it takes - a shift in societal attitudes, a political re-alignment, or the swelling senior population exercising its own power and voting in its own interests - we must rise to a higher standard for elder care."

The above are excerpts from Richtman's well-reasoned argument in a publication whose readership is largely national politicians and federal government officials. While one can only hope it doesn't fall on deaf ears, it's important to note that the "Build Back Better" legislation, which includes significant benefits for seniors, is currently stalled in Congress.

America is aging, and the segment of the population over age 55 is growing more rapidly than any other. The wealthiest minority of 55-plus Americans continue to get richer and secure their own retirement, but the majority of older Americans have less than adequate retirement savings and struggle financially when they retire. In fact, many in the 55-plus age group will need to continue to work well into their 70s if they want to experience any sort of comfortable retirement.

At some point, legislators -- and all members of American society --  must recognize that the precarious nature of many older Americans' lives will catch up with us. Growing old in America should not be "more uncertain and even scary" for anyone.

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Looking Ahead with "The New Map of Life"

Screen Shot 2021-12-10 at 4.54.13 PMThe Stanford Center on Longevity is doing some excellent work around aging. A major initiative of the Center is "The New Map of Life." According to the Center, in this initiative "researchers define new models for education and lifelong learning, redesign how we work, advise new policies for health care, housing, the environment and financial security, and promote more intergenerational partnerships. It will also advance a new narrative, which redefines what it means to be 'old' and values people at different stages of life."

I wrote about this map before, but just recently, the Center issued a report about The New Map of Life that is well worth reading. (See the link below to get a free copy.) The report details eight guiding principles as follows. I've included a few excerpts for each:

  1. Age Diversity is a Net Positive
    We are in an era of "unprecedented age diversity. ...The speed, strength, and zest for discovery common in younger people, combined with the emotional intelligence and experience prevalent among older people, create possibilities for families, communities, and workplaces that haven't existed before."
  2. Invest in Future Centenarians to Deliver Big Returns
    "As people live longer and the roles and social norms associated with age become more fluid and self-defined, less uniform and regimented, qualities such as resilience, self-efficacy (a belief in one's own abilities to shape outcomes), and curiosity (rather than dread) when confronted with change will become the emotional toolkit for longevity."
  3. Align Health Spans to Life Spans
    "Health span should be the metric for determining how, when, and where longevity efforts are most effective."
  4. Prepare to be Amazed by the Future of Aging
    "Today's 5-year-olds will benefit from an astonishing array of medical advances and emerging technologies that will make their experience of aging far different from that of today's older adults."
  5. Work More Years with More Flexibility
    "Rather than plunging over a retirement 'cliff' at a time predetermined by age, workers can choose a 'glide path' to retirement over the course of several years, allowing them to gradually reduce working hours while remaining in the workforce."
  6. Learn Throughout Life
    "We envision new options for learning outside the confines of formal education, with people of all ages able to acquire the knowledge they need at each stage of their lives, and to access it in ways that fit their needs, interests, abilities, schedules, and budgets."
  7. Build Longevity-Ready Communities
    "Safe and flexible housing for an age-diverse population is one area of unmet need -- and tremendous opportunity. ... While zoning and planning decisions are up to local governments, state and federal policies can incentivize the development of climate-resistant, livable, walkable communities that promote the well-being and safety of people of all ages."
  8. Life Transitions are a Feature, Not a Bug
    The New Map of Life encourages a "whole-of-life approach" that is about "optimizing each stage of life, so that benefits can compound for decades, while at the same time allowing for more time to recover from setbacks."

While some of this may sound like pie in the sky, The New Map of Life is supported by extensive research and analysis. This initiative is an exciting visionary perspective that could be a blueprint for the quality of life as future generations age. It also has more immediate implications for the way society treats aging Boomers and the manner in which we live out our older years.

Download the free report below (PDF).

Download NewMapofLifeReport

Graphic: Stanford Center on Longevity

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Reasons for Optimism

Joe-hepburn-qr7rfIthbvc-unsplashLooking ahead to 2022, there may be a great deal of uncertainty for many Boomers. But as we age, some of us see glimmers of hope and maybe even reasons for optimism. One area that could be surprisingly bright is the job market. The "Great Resignation" we've experienced in the United States is creating a great reckoning for employers.

Tim Driver, CEO of RetirementJobs and founder of the Age-Friendly Institute, is someone who is particularly upbeat. He spoke with Chris Farrell, author of the book Unretirement, for an article on NextAvenue.org. Under Driver's leadership, RetirementJobs started a program called CAFE to help change negative stereotypes of older workers. CAFE (Certified Age Friendly Employer) recognizes companies that are among the best employers for the 50-plus worker.

 Seeking employees to fill millions of jobs, companies are not only re-evaluating their pay and benefit structures, they are taking a serious look at older workers. Driver believes there is now a compelling business argument for employers to hire Boomers. At the same time, there is a push for companies to embrace DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). While DEI typically relates to race, gender and LGBTQ, Driver believes "Age may not be first on the list. But it's there." Driver also believes the trend of working from home is a mutual benefit to employers and older workers, who may be happy to work remotely, as well as on a part-time basis.

Another reason for optimism is the growing recognition that age discrimination has real consequences, and it must be addressed by society. Demographically, America is aging and, with it, the negative perception of older people is likely to change, even if it is gradually. One example of organizations that address this issue head on is Driver's Age-Friendly Institute, whose mission is to "harness what we learn when we listen to the voices of older adults to inform continuous age-friendly program improvement and accelerate enhanced quality of life and care for older adults." The Institute focuses on two broad areas: Elevating age-friendly solutions and fostering cross sector collaboration.

In researching information for blog posts, I have noticed a real uptick in numerous organizations, institutions and (thankfully) government agencies focusing more on age discrimination and the needs of the older population. It is also encouraging that more employers are paying attention to the Boomer demographic, even if it is because they are desperate to fill open positions. We will be far better off if everyone becomes "age-friendly" -- and there are reasons to be optimistic a societal shift is slowly happening.

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A Double Whammy

Screen Shot 2021-11-18 at 11.24.44 AMIn the numerous posts I've written about ageism, I tend to lump 50-plus men and women together. While ageism obviously applies to both genders, it is worth pointing out that there is a double whammy for women known as "gendered ageism."

In an excellent recent Forbes article, Bonnie Marcus writes that gendered ageism "is a growing concern for professional women." To validate that statement, Marcus, author of the book Not Done Yet!, collaborated on a research study that collected responses from 729 participants who ranged in age from 18 to 70+, with 65 percent of respondents from the U.S. and the remainder from Canada and Europe. It is well worth reading and considering all nine survey takeaways cited by Marcus, but I'll concentrate on three of them here, taken directly from the article:

  1. Gendered Ageism is Real – 80% of those surveyed experienced some form of gendered ageism. A third of all respondents (33%) felt they could not get a job or interview because of their age. The most common experiences were “feeling opinions were ignored” (47%), “seeing younger colleagues get attention” (42%) and “not being invited to key meetings” (35%).
  2. DEI is Not Making the Cut – When asked if their company’s DEI initiatives included gendered ageism, 77% responded that it was not included. Interestingly, 23% stated they did not know and 15% said their company did not have DEI initiatives. Public companies were more likely to have DEI, all but 3%, but only 23% of both public and private companies included gendered ageism. Almost a full third of private companies did not have DEI at all (30%). However, almost all respondents from both public and private companies (93% and 83% respectively) believed that more could be done to combat this prejudice.
  3. A No-Win Situation – Not Enough Money to Retire and Limited Prospects for Work – Gendered ageism has long term implications for retirement, with more than half of those surveyed reporting that they do not have enough money to retire and nearly all (95%) of those over 53 – including those 65-70 - stating that they want or need to keep working. Yet, more than a quarter 28% of women 59-65 thought their chances of continuing to work were “fair” or “poor”. The most common reason stated – “My company does not value older workers."

Just these three observations by Marcus are compelling enough to highlight the depth of gendered ageism in the workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the precarious nature of working women in the U.S. Millions of women were forced to quit their jobs to care for younger children because of inadequate daycare. That was one indignity women suffered. But another indignity made even worse by the pandemic was gendered ageism, which likely contributed to the increase in retirees.

In her article, Marcus notes that "many women 50+ are pushed to the sidelines and/or pushed out to make room for younger workers. Though this is also true for men, women experience this earlier. Once terminated, women find it much more challenging to get rehired at a time when may they lack the funds for retirement." Sadly, ageism in general seems to be a systemic problem -- and gendered ageism is a more insidious subset.

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