Reputable economists are predicting that the boomers will bankrupt Social Security and Medicare, leaving our kids and grandkids to fend for themselves. The Millennials are none too pleased by this prospect, and some have even taken to calling us parasites and leeches. At the risk of offending my fellow boomers, and in an effort to foster inter-generational harmony, I propose that we give up our senior discounts. It seems like the least we can do. After all, every time I get 20% off the cost of my hotel room, a Gen Yer is subsidizing me by paying a higher price.
As a 57 year-old, I qualify to purchase a host of goods and services at prices 10-20% lower than my under-50 friends. I’ve racked my lawyer brain, but can’t come up with any firm logic to support this “youngster tax.”
If you wonder why these discounts haven’t been challenged as a form of age discrimination, you’re not alone. While they seem like a form of reverse-age discrimination, in that they favor the old over the young, they don’t run afoul of the laws that prohibit age discrimination because those laws only protect older workers in workplace settings. It may not seem fair, but it’s perfectly permissible for Denny’s to discount its prices for anyone over 50 who walks in the door between 4:00 and 10:00 pm. Though this age-specific pricing may be legal, it amounts to a regressive tax that typically benefits people who don’t need it. Some argue that senior discounts breed loyalty, but today almost all retailers have club programs to reward repeat customers.
Speculation is that these discounts have been around since the 1950s and were instigated by AARP, which currently lures the 50+ crowd with promises of hundreds of special deals. These price breaks pervade almost every industry—from restaurants to hotels to clothing stores to national parks. Did you know that once you reach your 62nd birthday you’re entitled to a lifetime admission pass to all national parks for a mere $10? Meanwhile, the younger generations have to fork over $80 a year to commune with nature.
Perhaps there was some justification for giving oldsters a break 60 years ago, when Social Security benefits were stingy, people retired at 65, and expired soon thereafter. But, things have changed. Today people over 65 are not only less likely to live below the poverty line; they enjoy higher net wealth than any other demographic group. The average lifespan in the US has increased by ten years since the 50s and many boomers are delaying retirement.
To illustrate the absurdity of the current situation, I’ll use myself as an example. My Dad is currently 94, so I expect to live to 100. At this rate, I’ll be entitled to senior discounts for one-half of my life. I, like a lot of boomers, don’t need the price break. A 20-something, fresh out of college and unable to get a job, is probably more deserving.
So, I’m appealing to my generation—why not be a little magnanimous and give up your senior discount. If nothing else, it might buy you some good will with your kids. Think about it.