Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Promise We Made, a Promise to Keep

I am a person who receives Social Security, and began to do so just before I turned 63. Because I was for years a woman who didn’t work outside the home and never remarried after my divorce, I became eligible for my former husband’s benefit, which was double that of what I had accrued in my own work history.

For twenty years, I had worked as a bookseller, first as a part-time employee, then full-time as my children grew older. Over time, my back and shoulders began to deteriorate and now I have almost monthly episodes of debilitating pain, where my activity level sinks to absolute zero and I am often sleepless, unless I take Advil PM.

My Social Security check is higher than most, thanks to my husband. My own Social Security earnings have gone back into the system, so that I am actually draining the fund only of what I earned myself. The excess is offset by what I accrued and didn’t take. This is true of anybody who earned a wage that was taxed for Social Security payments, and then chose to forgo their earnings in favor of a spousal benefit instead.

I am part of the Baby-Boom Generation that exceeded in numbers any that came before us. Most of us grew up in a time when the unemployment rate was miniscule and we were blessed with jobs, unlike many in our country today, The benefits we provided to our predecessors for Social Security went to a smaller number of people than those of us who were providing them—and in many cases our wages were higher than the money made by those who went through the Depression.  There should have been a surplus of money but it was used for other purposes by our government.

Now there is great concern for the generation that follows us who are responsible for our benefits, and I share that concern. If our government had repaid the money they have “borrowed” from the Social Security fund, this would not be a flaming issue today. I believe our government owes it to everyone, recipients of Social Security and those who are paying into the system, to find ways to replenish the funds that were used for other purposes.

There should be an income-cap on those who receive benefits—people with fat pensions should not receive a monthly Social Security check. Crack down on under-the-table wages by giving anyone in this country a right to work and the responsibility to pay into the system—then police employment venues notorious for paying off the books (restaurants, landscaping businesses, sweat shops). Within the realm of the Social Security Administration itself, there are people who are capable of finding far more creative solutions than I, ones that will not break the contract that has been made with the people of our country.

Much controversy rages over the cost of living increase of Social Security benefits and I’m going to add to it. Stop it. It’s a joke. Last year my increase amounted to $25 additional dollars a month. My rent also increased by $25 a month. Food costs have risen quite a bit. That extra $25 meant nothing in the scheme of how I live my life. If it will help the system, get rid of it. But also get rid of cost of living increases for our elected officials in Washington, they who pull down very decent salaries and receive health care subsidies too. Fair is fair, as we used to say in the schoolyard.

Speaking of health care, next month my check will be reduced by $100 to help provide me with Medicare. No. It’s not free, for those who labor under that delusion, and for those who receive less in their monthly check than I, this is a steep cut in income. (I know because it provides a substantial pinch for me.) It also is not a guarantee that we can get health care when we need it. There are co-pays and out-of-pocket deductibles, which not all of us will be able to afford. The medical establishment has come up with credit cards for anyone to use, with exorbitant interest rates, so that health care will be available to all—along with soaring debt. Is this the best solution that America can come up with?

I’m happy to have any sort of health care because I’ve gone without it for decades. I have never accepted any sort of government assistance as a single parent or as an aging woman with no health insurance. I have paid into the system that now sends me a monthly check, with my own payroll deductions and payments from my employers which otherwise might have come to me as income. I never begrudged that bite into my rather meager salary because I was helping to fulfill a promise that I believed in.

My generation believed in that promise. Now we are “a drain on the federal budget.” To those who flinch at our numbers, I ask them to look at statistics. More American women are dying at younger ages than ever before, and given the frailty of approaching years, most of those women are the ones who are aging. Men, of course, traditionally live fewer years than their female counterparts. Just so long as our health care system, eager for Medicare dollars, doesn’t prolong our lives with modern medical miracles, our shelf lives will be short. Our Social Security checks will go back into the system for the next generation, unless of course our government decides they need it more than the recipients do.

1 comment:

Sherry said...

Excellent observations! How did I miss this post before? It's a really concise, clearly stated explanation of the Social Security System from a recipient who needs it vantage point.
Two things I would mention:
1. There are many doctors who do not accept Medicare including many specialists and
2. The COLA (when we get it) is almost always offset by a rise in cost of the Medicare deduction...
But, truly a great post!