Senior Citizens

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Senior Citizens

Elderly persons, usually more than sixty or sixty-five years of age.

People in the United States who are more than sixty years of age are commonly referred to as senior citizens or seniors. These terms refer to people whose stage in life is generally called old age, though there is no precise way to identify the final stage of a normal life span. People are said to be senior citizens when they reach the age of sixty or sixty-five because those are the ages at which most people retire from the workforce.

U.S. law and society recognize the special needs of senior citizens. The most important aid to senior citizens is the Social Security program. More than twenty-five million Americans receive old-age benefits each month under federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance, and those payments amount to almost $20 billion a year. Senior citizens who are age sixty-five or older qualify for a full benefit payment by having been employed for the mandatory minimum amount of time and by having made contributions to Social Security. A person may retire at age sixty-two and receive less than full benefits. There is no financial need requirement to be satisfied.

Because of enormous financial pressures on the Social Security program, changes have been made that will push the retirement age higher in the coming decades. Persons born before 1950 can retire at age sixty-five with full benefits based on the average income during working years. Those born between 1950 and 1960 can retire at age sixty-six with full benefits. For those born in 1960 or later, full benefits will be awarded for retirement at age sixty-seven.

Senior citizens are also protected by the Medicare program. This program provides basic health care benefits to recipients of Social Security and is funded through the Social Security Trust Fund. Medicare is divided into a hospital insurance program and a supplementary medical insurance program. The hospital insurance plan covers reasonable and medically necessary treatment in a hospital or skilled nursing home, meals, regular nursing care services, and the cost of necessary special care. Medicare also pays for home health services and hospice care for terminally ill patients.

Medicare's supplementary medical insurance program is financed by monthly insurance premiums paid by people who sign up for coverage, combined with money contributed by the federal government. The government contributes the major portion of the cost of the program, which is funded out of general tax revenues. Persons who enroll pay a regular monthly premium and also a small annual deductible fee for any medical costs incurred during the year above the amount funded by the government. Once the deductible has been paid, Medicare pays 80 percent of any medical bills.

Some warm-weather states such as Arizona and Florida have senior citizen retirement communities. These planned communities allow only senior citizens to buy or rent housing. Many seniors feel more independent and secure in a retirement community than in an ordinary neighborhood. Legal provisions in a retirement community's development plan are incorporated into the deeds of all property owners, prohibiting, for example, children from residing in the community. In this way, the special nature of the neighborhood is preserved.

However, not all senior citizens wish to retire from the workforce. Amendments to the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) (29 U.S.C.A. § 621 et seq.) have eliminated the age of mandatory retirement for most employees and have made the act applicable to more workers. The ADEA itself prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of age.

How to Avoid Being Defrauded

Local law enforcement agencies, state attorneys general, the federal Consumer Protection Agency, and groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons provide information to senior citizens on how to avoid being defrauded. These organizations advise the following:

  • Watch out if a caller promises prizes for buying products such as vitamins, beauty and health aids, or office supplies. These products are sold at outrageously inflated prices, costing a buyer $500 to $2,000 for items with a value of less than $100.
  • Never give a caller your credit card number or checking account number.
  • Be especially cautious if a caller reaches you when you are feeling lonely. The person may call day after day until you feel that the caller is a friend, not a stranger trying to sell you something.
  • If you think a caller is dishonest, hang up the phone. If a caller is trying to cheat you, it is not rude to end the conversation.
  • Never act in haste. If a caller is pressuring you to make a quick decision, consult with friends and family or your state or local consumer protection office before taking a financial risk.
  • Always remember that if you really win a prize, you will get it absolutely free, with no fee required.
  • Beware if you have been cheated by con artists. They sell information to other con artists, who are likely to call.
  • Remember, con artists are liars. They will say anything to get your money.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is not true. Be skeptical of offers that promise rewards greatly out of proportion to your investment.

Senior citizens also are concerned about crime. Because of their physical vulnerability and personal isolation, they are robbed more often than are the members of other age groups. Seniors are also the most likely group in society to be swindled. The American Association of Retired Persons and state and local governments seek to educate senior citizens about mail and telemarketing schemes that defraud thousands of seniors each year.

Further readings

Breaux, John B., and Orrin G. Hatch. 2003. "Confronting Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation: The Need for Elder Justice Legislation." Elder Law Journal 11 (spring).

Hang Up on Fraud. 1995. Office of Minnesota Attorney General Hubert H. Humphrey III.

Hines, Jeffrey. 2002. "Telemarketing Fraud Upon the Elderly: Minimizing Its Effects Through Legislation, Law Enforcement and Education." Albany Law Journal of Science & Technology 12 (summer).

United States. Congress. Senate. Special Committee on Aging. 2000. Elder Fraud and Abuse: New Challenges in the Digital Economy: Hearing Before the Special Committee on Aging, United States Senate. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

——. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2000. Our Aging Population: Promoting Empowerment, Preventing Victimization, and Implementing Coordinated Interventions: A National Symposium. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.


Age Discrimination; Consumer Protection; Death and Dying; Elder Law; Health Care Law; Health Insurance; Pension.

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