070104 Lucinski, Dick

Dick Lucinski, Niagara Gazette Managing Editor. James Neiss/Staff Photographer

A recent birthday (I won’t say which one, but you can do the math using clues found in this column) set the mind to thinking: At what age does one become a senior citizen? Except for a few more aches and pains and a little less energy exhibited while doing work around the house, I don’t feel ready for a permanent seat on the rocking chair on the front porch quite yet. It seems as if our society can’t quite put its finger on that magic age, either.

As with so many other things, it used to be easy. The Social Security Administration declared that full retirement age was 65. So there you had it. Reach 65 and you were officially a senior.

But things are more complicated these days. It seems as if every group, organization, government entity or corporation has a different slant on who can be admitted to their respective longevity clubs. So, here’s a partial guide to who is or is not a senior citizen. In chronological order:

AARP. This is the national organization that used to be known as the American Association of Retired Persons. But if you limit membership in your organization to the retired, usually people in their 60s or older, it doesn’t give you enough clout to flex your muscles politically in Congress. So the age limit for membership was set at 50. AARP is now one of the strongest lobbying groups on Capitol Hill.

As a matter of full disclosure, I am a card-carrying member of AARP. But my interest in the group was never ideological; it was and is financial. Some of the discounts are terrific.

It was 1999 and I had just become eligible to join (there’s a clue). I had no intention of signing up for AARP. But in planning a vacation to San Antonio, Texas, we noticed that a $129 per night room in a beautiful hotel along that city’s scenic Riverwalk was just $79 for AARP members. Sign me up.

Government retirement. Many local and state government workers and public school employees become eligible for retirement at age 55, as long as they have a minimum of five years of service. With more, for example, 35 years of service, a state worker is eligible for a pension that could pay as much as 70 percent of the average of the three highest consecutive years of earnings. It’s a very powerful incentive to declare one’s senior citizenship and free agency at the same time.

The state parks system. This is from the New York state parks Web site: “If you are a New York state resident 62 or older, on any weekday (except holidays), you can obtain...

n Free vehicle access to state parks and arboretums

n Fee reduction to state historic sites

n Fee reduction for state-operated swimming, golf, tennis and boat rental

...simply by presenting your current valid New York State Driver's License or New York State Non-Driver's Identification Card.”

In four years (another clue), Beaver Island golf course, watch out.

Social Security: The age when the granddaddy of government retirement plans considers you fully retired is now on a sliding scale. If you were born before 1942, you’re already there. For people born between 1943 and 1954, the magic age is 66. Then, it starts sliding again until it reaches 67 for people born in 1960 or later.

Also, it seems as if the age of seniority is set differently by every car rental company, airline or restaurant offering price breaks to us old folk.

So, is it 50, 55, 62, 65, 67 or somewhere in between? The saying goes, “You’re as old as you feel.” That might just be the best guideline to senior citizenship of all.

Dick Lucinski is the managing editor of the Niagara Gazette. His columns appear on Wednesdays and Sundays.