By Jack Cashill
In a nation consumed with the notion of income inequality—at least through this election cycle—I find myself asking why so many of our institutions openly favor the folks who have the most money—namely, old people.
Like millions of my fellow Baby Boomers, I am on the cusp of becoming one of those geezers we never imagined we would be. Some mornings I feel like I am already there. So I argue here—nobly, if I must say so—against my own self-interest.
I had my eureka! moment not too long ago. Driving through the take-out lane at the McDonald’s near my office in Westport, I ordered a large coffee—decaf, to be precise. This was business as usual. What surprised me was the question from the 12-year-old cashier, “Are you aware there’s a senior-citizen discount?”
At first blush, naturally, I was miffed. I shot back a semi-truculent, “How old do you have to be a senior citizen?” If the kid said, “65,” I was prepared to be offended. When he said “55,” I thought, “OK, I can live with that. Now we can start talking price.”
I had been spending $1.64 for my morning coffee. As a “senior,” I would spend just 76 cents, including tax. The rub is that the “senior decaf”—that’s what they call it—only comes in “small,” still another indignity with which I had to make peace.
I cannot say that it troubled me to beat McDonald’s out of 88 cents each morning. Even if the Happy Meal mavens are not as cash happy as they used to be, McDonald’s can afford it.
What confused me is that I rank among the 1 percent at this particular McDonald’s. Hell, anyone with a job is a 1-percenter at this joint. As I dodged the homeless and clueless each morning to get my senior coffee, I came to see that this discount made no sense.
I’ve paid off my house (houses). I’ve put my kids through school and college. Like most people our age, my wife and I make as much as we ever did and have started collecting Social Security to boot. And now here I was enjoying some totally gratuitous bennies at the expense of those younger people who weren’t.
Everyone was losing. The discount coerced me to drink less coffee than I wanted, compromised my shaky values, and cost McDonald’s revenue. Young McDonald’s patrons, whether they knew it or not, were subsidizing my coffee. And as seen through the cloudy lens of “social justice”—a phrase that should only be used as a punch line—geezer privilege seemed to be further distorting the nation’s wealth divide.
And my case is hardly unique. The average net worth of a person in my age bracket is roughly thirty times higher than that of someone under 35. Yet the coffee brewers and burger flippers at fast food joints everywhere are the ones being asked to subsidize the Boomer elite that consume their product.
Indeed, if Bernie Sanders had been really clever, he would have targeted senior discounts right alongside Wall Street billionaires. That would have been one give-away to the young and dumb that would have actually made sense.
As I began researching this issue, it became clear to me that McDonald’s is just one culprit out of many. Although several states prohibit age discrimination in public accommodations, businesses everywhere openly discriminate against their younger customers.
KFC, Chick-Fil-A, Wendy’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Denny’s, even White Castle—all deny young patrons discounts they offer the old. AMC discounts its movies for seniors every Tuesday. Banana Republic has a 10 percent discount every day, and you only have to be 50 to qualify. And just about every hotel and motel, many car-rental companies, and a few airlines slip discounts to the Geritol generation.
What’s weird is that the federal government, which will slap a bogus lawsuit on a business quicker than you can say EEOC, openly discriminates against the young. Amtrak discounts its fares 15 percent for the old and restless, and national parks don’t charge seniors at all.
Even weirder, the Salvation Army and Goodwill provide senior discounts, at the Salvation Army up to 50 percent. You’d think it be obvious to these charities that their younger customers don’t exactly start their days with Cherry Blossom Frappuccinos and a leisurely read through Bloomberg Businessweek.
Now here’s my dilemma: As I pored through the list of available discounts, my resolve started to weaken. “Damn,” I thought, “how come I didn’t know about all these bennies?” For an American, I suspect, it is easier to give up smoking crack than to give up accepting discounts. Once hooked, we come to see these pointless benefits as our birthright. Still, I fought the urge. On my last trip through McDonald’s, I ordered a large coffee, “Hold the discount.”
And then I got this letter from the city. My curbs and sidewalks need repair. In that my house is on a corner lot, this was going to cost a few bucks. When I called to ask how much, the guy from the city looked at my work order and said, “Oh, wow!” That was not a good sign.
I argued that the city, without asking, planted the trees that are now pushing up my sidewalks. “I have no answer for that,” said the guy. As nice
as could be, he told me there was no one I could appeal to. It was even illegal to chop down the concrete-busting trees, although he did concede, “There’s no tree police.” Wheww!
Out of options, I resorted, of course, to that last irresistible refuge for aging scoundrels everywhere.
“Isn’t there,” I asked, with all the indignation of the chronically indulged,
“a senior discount?”
“Nope,” he said—and was I ever outraged!.
Jack Cashill is Ingram's Senior Editor and has been affiliated with the magazine for more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Ingram's Magazine.