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As I See It

In 1955, the National Retired Teachers Association negotiated cut-rate health insurance premiums for its members. Three years later, that group became the American Association of Retired Persons, now call AARP. In addition to health insurance savings, AARP has provided their members with discounts on hotel rooms, meals and entertainment.

By the 1980s, many businesses were competing for the patronage of our senior citizens. Hospitals offered room upgrades to lure the then-lucrative Medicare patients. Banks scrambled for seniors’ hefty deposits. Airlines joined the bandwagon with discounts to lure older customers during off-peak hours. More recently, health clubs have joined the chase with senior discounts on membership fees.

But now some businesses are questioning whether the price breaks for seniors make sense.

As the 50+ crowd swells, some companies are trimming their perks or scrapping them altogether. One in every five Americans is 55 or older, and their ranks are growing fast as the baby boom generation matures. Seniors are more active than ever and have a higher net worth than any other age group. A lot of companies are asking: Why should they be pampered?

Last year, Delta Air Lines eliminated its senior club, which offered bottom-of-the-barrel prices for travelers 62 and older who paid an annual membership fee. American Airlines followed Delta and eliminated their senior club. Both airlines still offer 10% senior discounts and coupon books, but the savings are much less than the benefits previously available through the senior clubs.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission eliminated its free fishing licenses for anglers 65 and older. In the heart of senior citizen America, a Florida restaurant chain, R.J.Gator’s HomeTown Grill & Bar is scaling back on its senior citizen discount program. Movie theater chains have followed the trend in Florida and other places by eliminating, or reducing, their programs to lure seniors in. And finally, and perhaps the cruelest move of all, several Colorado ski resorts have abolished their decades-old policy of free lift tickets for 70+ skiers.

What do these changes imply for seniors in future years? More of the same I think. Businesses price their products to make a profit. In the interest of increasing volume and improving image, offering discounts to a small targeted group, such as senior citizens, makes good business sense. When that group gets so large that they are no longer a small part of the mix a change in policy is required.

And why should today’s seniors get special price breaks? They have more financial resources than any other group in our society and can well afford to pay their way. In spite of all the stories of destitute seniors, which are no doubt true in some cases, our elderly generation controls more wealth than most small countries. Their retirement income far exceeds the working wages of most people in the world today.

Doing something special for our senior citizens warms our hearts. We should honor and care for those who have paved the way for our success and happiness. However, with the huge herd of Baby Boomers moving into the ranks of senior citizens, businesses must either raise prices for everyone else or eliminate some of the senior perks. Apparently business has chosen to eliminate the perks.

Thought for the Moment — In Christ, life is intended to have purpose. Perhaps we all too easily become worshippers of life. We may make life itself into an idol. If all our marbles are in a basket called life, death may indeed be the unwanted, purposeless intruder.

— Bible commentator Philip W. Williams

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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