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Robert L. Sharp: Why a senior discount?

I recently received notice of a parcel tax being presented to the voters for support of the schools. One aspect of the tax is an exemption for senior citizens.

It occurred to me there is a presumption afoot here, that all senior citizens are poor. This has become so ingrained that a "senior citizen discount" all over the place is accepted as a logical benefit without examination.

This is the same presumption with government programs that favor minority- or women-owned businesses. There is no doubt that these sectors contain more than their share of the poor and disadvantaged, but is every member of these groups poor and in need for some kind of help?

Let us examine senior citizens for instance.

Per the U.S. Census, the proportion of householders age 65 and older in 2005 who owned their homes is 81 percent. This compares with 43 percent for householders under age 35.

In 2000, the median household net worth generally increased with the age of the householder, rising from $7,240 for householders under the age of 35, to $108,885 for householders 65 and older.

Adults 50 and older control a household net worth of $19 trillion; own more than three-fourths of the nation's financial wealth; own 70 percent of all money market accounts and certificates of deposit assets; have an income per capita that is 26 percent higher than the national average.

I don't know where the U.S. Census Bureau gets all this detail. They certainly didn't ask me in such depth, but if they say so, I believe it.

What follows is Leon Satterfield, a Lincoln, Kan., English professor, commenting on a millionaire who insists on receiving his senior citizen discount.

His wife says, "It seems strange that someone with $400 million gets a senior citizen discount."

"He's entitled," I say. Sometimes I have to spell it out for her. "He's 71."

"But you'd think they'd give discounts to people who need them," she says.

"Class warfare," I yelp. "Galloping bolshevism. Next you'll be saying I don't need a senior citizen discount either."

"When were we the poorest we've ever been?" she asks.

"That's easy," I say. "When we were in our twenties with three babies and a mortgage."

"And when did we have the most money we've ever had'" she asks?

"Right now," I say. "The kids are gone and the mortgage is paid off."

"So doesn't it seem strange that you didn't get a junior citizen discount when you needed it," she says, "instead of a senior citizen discount when you don't need it?"

There are a lot of things we take for granted without thinking much about them or challenging the assumptions.

Robert L. Sharp grew up in Linden and spent most of the following 30 years as an international banker in Asia including four years as a Naval officer in that part of the world.