Need Eligibility vs. Age Eligibility for Social Program Benefits

A long-standing debate in American politics is whether social program benefits (e.g., Social Security or Medicare) should be awarded to people based on age or need. Although the social poli­cies in the United States, in combination, provide support to some groups of people based on need (welfare) and others based only on age (Medicare), some people believe that such programs should support only those eligible on the basis of need. Others maintain that Social Security and Medicare should remain policies provided to people based on age, using dignity and solidarity as the basis for their argument.

Arguing for need-based eligibility, for example, is Peterson (1996) who maintained that, because of their greater political power, we spend too much on older adults and not enough on children. Arguing for age-based eligibility are Minkler and Robertson (1991) who explained that, rather than blame the “greedy geezers, age-based benefits help all of us, e.g., relieving middle-aged children of the need to support aged parents when many are still raising their own children.

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