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.