Time to end senior discounts?

I turn 65 at the end of May. I’ve signed up for Medicare, navigated the Medicare supplement offerings over the last few months, and let the boss know that I’ll celebrate my birthday by retiring. I’m ready to start enjoying the discounts stores and organizations give to the old-timers.

But, as has been the case most of my life, my timing stinks, if an article in Monday’s Boston Globe is any indication. There is a growing backlash against giving discounts to senior citizens.

Why should seniors get discounts when younger people are suffering from the burden of student loans and $1,000 phones?

“The senior discount should be radically rethought,” says David Wallis, who leads the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. “Let’s say you have a very comfortable lifestyle. Do you deserve cheap seats at the movie theater?”

Wallis says the people who should get discounts are harder-off young people low-income people.

“Older Americans are not the only ones struggling,” Ben Brown, founder of the Association of Young Americans, says. “The cost of education has exploded over the past 15 years, and the student debt crisis has reached epidemic proportions. We absolutely see the need to create new discounts for younger folks who are struggling.”

Senior discounts started in the ’60s when seniors, many of whom had interrupted their moneymaking years to go fight a war, were a little worse off. Plus, seniors today don’t do the one thing that makes the discounts more financially sustainable for businesses: die sooner.

Now, many seniors are retiring with some fat nest eggs (a substantial portion of which will be transferred to their ungrateful offspring) and don’t need the break, the youth advocates contend.

Senior discounts obviously have their fans — mostly seniors who spend much of their retirement chasing senior discounts.

But old people are pushing back, too, particularly when they’re offered the discounts without asking for it.

Writing in the Seattle Times, Sharon Romm, a medical director at a psychiatric institute, recoiled when she was reminded of being old.

I complained to the manager, who did respond with an apology for his employee’s insensitive behavior. OK for the manager. He’ll now have signs at the checkout lines inviting those who would like a discount to request it.

I found this episode and others where a focus on age by a stranger both annoying and humiliating. Like the young woman who commented as I power-walked on Alki, “How old are you? I’d like to be as spry as you when I’m your age.” Yuk. May this woman learn better manners long before she reaches my age.

Is anyone who looks different from the usual fair game for being singled out and publicly identified? Is it OK to comment on a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair, on someone’s body shape, or on how a person might look after undergoing chemotherapy?

One possible solution? Allow the senior citizens in line to transfer the discount to the kid in line behind them.

In the meantime, keep working everyone, I need to live off your Social Security taxes.

  • Guest

    So any discount that does not pay for itself in additional business should be means-tested???

    Every discount started as a way to increase profits by having two-tiers of prices.

    IF the discussion is about inter-generational burdens, forget discounts and start talking National Debt.

    • National debt. Heh heh. I remember when that seemed to matter to some politicians.

    • 212944

      Worry about the national debt!

      That is sooooo 2015. And 2011. And 1995.

  • Erik Petersen

    In terms of trope, I have contemplated that in this age we don’t ever see anymore the scare story of elderly people eating pet food to get by. That one seems to have died in the 1980’s. The old people in my life are doing alright, their material needs are quite fulfilled even if they are from from affluent.

    • Kassie

      30% of SNAP recipients in MN are elderly and/or disabled. There are lots and lots of poor old people still.

      • Erik Petersen

        I know, but the pet food trope is dead, and thing is fair to say it was an artifact of advocacy journalism at the time.

        • Gary F

          Pet food costs more than human food. Why eat pet food?

        • Actually, it’s not fair at all to say that though I understand you might think so.

          If you do some research on what was going on at the time, what you’ll find is there was double digit inflation destroying the meager savings and Social Security of people on a fixed income. Money was increasingly becoming worthless and — surprise — the low income people were bearing the brunt of the problem.

          There were also meat shortages in the grocery stores and – the law of supply and demand being what it is, the cost went through the roof, and, of course, there was gasoline rationing at ridiculous prices that further challenged budgets.

          This is a scenario, of course, that the whippersnappers of today can’t even begin to fathom. It probably would come as a surprise that this is the way America was back in the mid to late ’70s; it wasn’t pretty.

          And it sure as hell wasn’t made up.

          • Erik Petersen

            I would not disagree with that.

            Here’s an 1993 NYT article with the pet food trope present.


            That having been said, I would not make ‘trope’ synonymous with ‘made up’.

          • Erik Petersen

            It is perhaps that I choose the wrong word in ‘trope’. You seem to agree this was a somewhat regularly encountered feature of reporting on elderly poverty at the time.

          • I’m not sure what point it is you’re trying to connect between “reporting” and the poverty of the elderly. Are you making a point about reporting or making a point about the poverty of the elderly.

      • John

        how does that relate to the percentage of MN who are elderly and/or disabled? Because if 30% of Minnesotans are elderly and/or disabled, then that sounds about where I’d expect it to be.

    • jon

      Pet food is probably more expensive than people food thanks to millennials spending their money on pets instead of kids.

      That’s right, Millennials are killing the possibility of old people eating cat food to survive!

  • Andrew

    I found my first gray hair the other day. I don’t think these discounts will be around when I come of age, but neither will my Social Security, so I’ve been told. I can’t imagine the backlash against us Millennials if we kill off senior discounts too. There will be riots in the streets.

    • Postal Customer

      Seniors riot?

      • Andrew

        Well, whatever their form of rioting would be…

        • jon

          “Riots” for people over 65?
          I think that’s called “voting”…

          • Andrew

            That’s true. Now they can finally vote out all those youngsters in office and get this country back on track.

      • They turn over walkers and set them afire

  • Gary F

    Back in my day, we put 15 cents into a coffee machine at Blegen Hall at the U of MN for a puff of instant coffee and a small cup full of hot water, while holding the strong button down. AND WE LIKED IT. Well, we didn’t know much better. None of this fancy fufu coffee.

    None of this craft beer stuff, we drank Hauenstien and Cold Spring in RETURNABLE bottles. We ate store brand mac and cheese, somethimes using food coloring to break up the industrial yellow color. AND we like it.

    Take your discount Bob, you earned it. Keep working kids, someone has to pull the wagon.

    • Rob

      One of the nice things about having a little extra jing is that I don’t have to drink crappy beer or lousy coffee, and I can spring for an occasional artisanal mac n’ cheese – featuring cheese from free-range goats – at Noodles & Co. (Come to think of it, these are about all the pluses there are to getting old and a little more affluent…)
      : )

    • Andrew

      Unless Folgers is fufu coffee, Grainbelt is craft beer, and Kraft is high-end mac, I don’t think us young folk are all living the lifestyle the media portrays. My peers and I take part in those luxuries sparingly, but we don’t eat avocado toast daily, as is typically reported.

      • MikeB

        Death and Taxes
        Swallows to Capistrano
        “Kids these days” rants by the current generation of olds

  • MrE85

    We Olds control 90 percent of the nation’s businesses, we dominate nonprofit and corporate boards, we sit on most of the wealth and we pick who serves in elected office.

    So sure, I’ll give up my 10 percent discount. Now, go fetch me some coffee, kid, and snap to it!

    (maniacal laughter)

  • Rob

    I love this post.

    I’m officially an old person, but I never claim geezer discounts, precisely because I don’t need them (thank you, 401K) – and because taking the geezer discount merely rubs my nose in the fact that I’m an old person. As it is, I get enough daily reminders of that fact, thank you very much.

    I think the idea of being able to transfer the discount to a young person is a way groovy idea (told ya I was an old person. : ) ).

    Also, for anyone that insists on calling people between 55 and 65 middle-aged, please refresh your math fundamentals. And 65 ain’t the new 45, it’s still 65. Full stop.

    • Gary F

      I’m 54 and one away from being a senior citizen? Funny.

      • Rob

        Time to put in your order for a couple of “Get off my lawn!” signs. : )

    • There’s a HUGE difference, too, in being in your 50s and being in your 60s. Being in your 60s hurts a LOT more (physically)

      • QuietBlue

        The type of work a person does matters a lot there too. Physical labor will age people much faster than desk jobs.

      • Rob

        Yup. With age comes decrepitude.

        • Sonny T

          It’s not a given. Vegetables, in mass quantities.

          • Rob

            Smoked or snorted?

    • jon

      I’m not sure what the official measure of “middle aged” is…
      But at my time of birth life expectancy for men in the US was 71 years…
      I’ll be 36 in june…

      doesn’t take a lot of math to suggest that as an older millennial I’m now middle aged…

      Granted I might get an extra 2 years because the life expectancy has gone up maybe even 4 if we go with minnesota numbers rather than the national average. (and non-smoker, no obesity, no high blood pressure, etc… I’m going to live forever (or until a car crash kills me on the way home out of irony.))

      But I’m pretty sure that I’ve got to be pretty close to earning the title “middle aged” right? I’ve been part of the “young people” for so long…

      • It’s more middle-agey feeling when you hit 40. Enjoy your youth!

      • Rob

        Given male life expectancy is 78, you’ve only got a couple more years left before you’re on the bubble of middle age.

      • Brian Simon

        I’ve got over a dozen years on you. Trust me, it’s all a state of mind. I don’t feel middle aged yet, and plan to avoid it as long as possible. For one thing, you can take the first 15 years out of the equation, since you likely weren’t very much in control of your life at that point. The way I figure it, life doesn’t begin until you’re own your own, paying your own way.

  • Jeff C.

    I was at a store last Tuesday that has a Senior (55+) discount on Tuesdays. “You aren’t old enough for the Senior discount, are you?” the clerk timidly asked. No, I’m not, I politely informed him. I didn’t add that I’m in my 40s. “I didn’t think so. But some people get upset if I don’t ask them.”

    Damned if you do ask people if they are old enough, damned if you don’t.

    • MrE85

      What store IS that, Bob and I both ask…..

      • Jeff C.

        Coastal Seafoods.

        • MrE85

          Oh, yum! I haven’t had one of their crab cakes in years. The dry scallops are great, too.

          • Jeff C.

            20% off for Seniors (55+) and veterans on Tuesdays.

          • MrE85

            That’s a great tip. I qualify, either way. Thanks.

          • Rob

            With the various discounts you’re apparently eligible for, the store will be paying you whenever you shop there.

          • Jeff C.

            I just noticed on their website they have a special on Fridays, too — 20% off for students, teachers and education staff! 🙂

        • Brian Simon

          Sounds like I need a fake id.

  • Erick

    Many of the “legitimate” theaters in town already give discounts to those under thirty. I guess they already see too many grey heads in the seats and are looking to attract a younger audience.

    • Ben Chorn

      I think this is a good point- is this to “help” those age groups, or is it a marketing ploy?

    • Jack Ungerleider

      The Science Museum of Minnesota has a student discount after 5 PM on Friday. As a long time Friday night volunteer I can say that our crowds have been larger since they put that in place.

  • boB from WA

    //”In the meantime, keep working everyone, I need to live off your Social Security taxes.”

    I’d be much obliged to that for you sir. Even though I too have turned 65, I plan to keep on working till I’m at least 70. And then keep working beyond, even though I can claim full benefits.

    • I did the math on the “work and don’t claim benefits until 70” stuff that the government pushes. I can see why they push it.

      • Rob

        If what you mean is that when you wait longer to claim your SocSec, you’re more likely to die before you can realize much of your SocSec, right on. The house (gummint) wins when you wait.

        • jon

          As some one who won’t retire until after social security runs out of money I feel I should encourage you all to wait to take social security until you’re… 80, yeah, let’s say 80… it optimizes your return or something.

          (probably best to get your finances in order now before my generation takes over as your financial planners…)

        • Yeah. If you delay to 70, you’ll be into your 80s before you get back the money you gave up between 66 and 70. and, of course, in your 80s you’re less likely to be able to do much with it.

          • Rob

            My pa-in-law did it right. Retired at 62, snowbirded to AZ for a dozen years, and was taken by pancreatic cancer at 74.

          • oh, man, pancreatic cancer is the worst

          • Rob

            Gods willing, we won’t be afflicted with it.

            A friend of mine, who was just about my age, stroked out in his sleep, the lucky son-of-a-gun.

        • Eat right and exercise every day – make it your life goal to outlive the actuaries who came up with the retirement tables.

          • Rob

            That is indeed how I roll. Easy on the French fries, and a long, brisk dog walk every day.

          • Dogs are one of the best personal trainer choices one can make.

      • boB from WA

        Oh no I do get it. But at the same time I don’t need it so why take it just because I can? Consider this my its-bitsy part to stave off the eventual bankruptcy of the system.

  • QuietBlue

    They can keep the discounts; it’s all the 55+ only housing being built when young people and families need homes that bothers me a lot more. Age-based discrimination in housing should be just as illegal as all of the other forms of housing discrimination.

    • Kassie

      This doesn’t bother me. If a 55+ person moves into special housing, they move out of mainstream housing, opening that up. As long as housing is being built, it helps the whole system.

      • QuietBlue

        Potentially, but what is built and where makes a difference. For one, this assumes that people want or can afford the housing being vacated (or the new housing, for that matter). There are plenty of big suburban houses languishing on the market because there aren’t buyers for them. Meanwhile, the affordable apartments fill up quick, and tend to be relegated to the less prime locations.

    • 55+ housing is more likely to be constructed to accommodate people with mobility issues, something the bulk of standard housing doesn’t do that well.

      • QuietBlue

        Lots of people under 55 have mobility issues too. It’s definitelty not unique to people above a certain age. But I’m not aware of housing that is *exclusively* for the use of people with mobility issues the same way that 55+ housing is.

        • Of course it’s not only for people with mobility issues. However, people 55 and over are more likely to develop mobility issues as they age, so it makes sense in housing communities designed for 55 plus that accommodations be made for future disabilities, at least up to a point. Nothing says that one has to be a person with a disability to live in these communities. It may simply be a lifestyle preference.

    • Sybil Twilight

      I live in a 55+ building, built in 1967, because I don’t want to live in a building with children. I’m highly sensitive to noise and I don’t want the associated noise and chaos of a building with children.

      • QuietBlue

        Maybe I don’t want to live in a building with children either. Why should I have to wait until I’m 55+ to do that?

  • Barton

    I know too many seniors that aren’t well off and need those discounts. Social Security doesn’t go very far any more, and many people don’t have pensions/other savings (which is true of all generations).

    Perhaps instead of getting rid of discounts for seniors they should find a way to fix the stagnant salaries that exist today.

  • Alright, let’s practice together for your retirement. Repeat after me, “GET OFF MY LAWN.” Okay, let’s try that again, but this time from the driveway, fetching the dead tree edition of the Strib while sporting a three day growth of beard and wearing a bathrobe and slippers. This has worked for me the past couple of years.

  • Brian Simon

    My FIL retired from education, back when you could do so at 100% salary. He noted that he started qualifying for discounts just when he least needed them.