Senior Citizen Discounts: Would Young Adult Discounts Make More Sense?

Skimming Paul Taylor’s, The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown, a 2014 report of Pew Research Center data on U.S. social trends, brought to mind one of my pet peeves: the favoritism shown to seniors over today’s more economically challenged Millennials and their children. Since passing into AARP-eligible territory, I have often purchased fares or tickets at discounted prices, while the single parent in line behind me got hit with a higher price. One website offers 250,000+ discounts for folks over 50.

A half-century and more ago it made sense to give price breaks to often-impoverished seniors wanting a night out at the movies, hungry for a restaurant meal, or needing to travel on buses and trains. Many seniors still struggle to make ends meet and afford housing.  But thanks to improved Social Security and retirement income and to decreased expenses for dependents and mortgages, their median net worth has been increasing—37 percent since 1984, Taylor shows, while those under 35 have seen their net worth plummet 44 percent.

And consider who are today’s poor (from this figure available here as well as in Taylor’s excellent book). Among the predictors is not only race but age.  Compared to four decades ago, today’s under-35 generation experiences a nearly doubled risk of poverty, while their senior counterparts suffer one-third the poverty rate of their 1960s counterparts

Ergo, in view of this historical change in poverty risk, should we adjust our social priorities? Might a more child-affirming culture consider discounts for card-carrying custodial parents? And could we not offer inflation adjustments not only to senior citizen Social Security stipends but also to minimum wages, tax exemptions for dependents, and family and food assistance?