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senior citizenBy FRANK TERRANELLA

Last year I visited the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Vermont. They have a nice tour there that ends with ice cream, and so I went with my son and his father-in-law. I only bring this up because they had a senior citizen discount that kicked in at age 60. I thought that was an odd age to pick, but some restaurants like Denny’s and IHOP give senior status to anyone over the age of 55.

Last weekend I visited the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, New Jersey with my wife, my grandson and his parents. There was a $3 a ticket discount for seniors, but they defined senior as age 62 and over. I have also come across movie theaters where the senior discount doesn’t kick in until 65.

All this led me to think, why can’t everyone agree on the age at which one becomes a senior citizen?

I think this should start with the AARP. The RP of AARP stands for Retired Persons. As anyone over 50 knows, the AARP is second to none in finding people around their 50th birthday and asking them to sign up. I don’t think the NSA could find those of us on the right side of 50 as fast as the AARP does. But how many people are actually retired at age 50? I don’t know anyone. Perhaps in 1958 when the AARP was founded there may have been a sizable minority, but today the number must be a single digit percentage.

A few months ago, Gallup released the results of a poll that indicated that retirement age has been increasing over the last decade. The average retirement age is now 62 and the poll showed that those of us who are not retired do not expect to do so before age 66. Surprisingly, 11% of 18-to-29-year olds said that they expected to retire before they hit 55. The poll showed that this percentage dropped to 3% when they asked 30-to-49-year olds, and 1% when they asked people over 50.

So if we are not going to retire until somewhere between 62 and 66, why does the AARP open its membership at 50? Well I think that has more to do with the power that comes with larger numbers. If the AARP restricted its membership to “retired persons,” it would be a much, much smaller organization. And in fact, you will have to search very hard to find the words “retired persons” on the AARP website. They are just AARP now. They have pretty much disavowed any meaning in the letters.

Social Security allows people to retire at age 62, but Medicare does not kick in until age 65. So even the government can’t make up its mind when one becomes a senior citizen.

If the reason for senior citizen discounts is that seniors are living on fixed incomes, then perhaps we should set the senior age at the average retirement age of 62. That way, most of the people getting the discount will be retired.

But maybe the reason for senior discounts is not tied to income. After all, many seniors, particularly of the “Greatest Generation,” are quite well off in retirement. Maybe the reason for senior discounts is simply to court the business of this rapidly-growing demographic who have time and ability to spend.

Whatever the motivation, those of us in the 55-65 limbo area would certainly appreciate it if there was some consistency about the senior discount age.