I got my first senior citizen discount last week. Don’t tell the AARP, but discounts based on age make absolutely no sense.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely qualify. I turned 61 three months ago. Apparently 60 is the standard borderline for geezerhood. At some businesses, senility starts at 55. To think of all the money I wasted paying the same prices as my less chronologically gifted citizens. What can I say? I haven’t answered yes to the question of “senior?” since my last year of college. Old habits die hard, I guess.
So if you want to give me a discount based on how many solar orbits I’ve done, I won’t stop you. But let’s at least ask ourselves what this is truly for, and whether or not it makes any sense.
Do people think the elderly are more likely to be poor? In fact, the opposite is true. According to the best numbers I could find, Americans who are 65 and over have the lowest poverty rate of any chronological demographic. The poorest demographic are teenagers and young adults. Can you imagine a cashier asking if you’d like a “high school senior discount”? Or offering a cheery “Under 25? Save 10%!” The numbers say that’s the group that could really use it.
Maybe people think we fogeys are retired on fixed incomes? Even for where that’s true, the elderly wield tremendous political power when it comes to the generous benefits we enjoy. No one is going to touch them, even when the need for entitlement reform is so pressing. I ought to know; I’m in the persuasion business. No political idea is harder for me to sell to my friends of a certain age than the need to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Even if it means fewer benefits for us.
Senior discounts for me and seniors like me are even stupider. They make no sense on economic grounds, or “fairness” grounds, or any other grounds I might use for my discounted coffee and donuts. I still work full time, with an income that puts me just shy of the top 10% of American earners. Thanks to out-of-fashion values like personal responsibility, hard work, thrift and discipline, I’ve saved up plenty of money. And thanks to passing those values on to my kids, I’ve fewer expenses now than any time in my life. I can’t be the only sexagenarian in this position. Maybe I’m just the only one who’ll publicly admit it.
Bottom line: I could easily pay twice as much for a burger and fries today as I could in the salad days of my youth. If choose to add a movie to my dinner date, why should I get a price break on “Venom: Let There Be Carnage”? A sanity test, absolutely, but a price break? Come on.
When you think about it, isn’t treating any group different based on a physical characteristic just a bit creepy? Can you imagine discounts based on race? On height? On weight? On gender? (Oops, forgot about Ladies’ Night, skip that one).
Perhaps giving senior citizens special treatment is a sign of respect for our age. If that’s true, can I ask what exactly we did? We’re not talking about the respect of children for parents, parents for grandparents, or citizens for elderly war veterans. We’re talking about charging complete strangers a lower price for the same goods, even though we’re disproportionally likely to be well-off, just because we made it this far without kicking the bucket. I just can’t see it.
Still, it’s their business. Presumably they wouldn’t offer seniors a discount if it didn’t help their bottom line. So what the heck, I’ll take the kickback. I could use the money I save to read an extra book or two, buy some more piano music to noodle around with, or spoil any grandchildren that might come along. Fine.
But you know what would be really awesome? If the next time someone asks me “Senior discount?”, I could reply “Cash it to Care and Share”. “Hand it to Habitat for Humanity”. “Park it for Parks and Recreation”. You get the idea. That’s a discount I’d be proud to earn.
Barry Fagin is senior fellow at the Independence Institute in Denver, his views are his alone. Readers can write Fagin at email@example.com.