In 1975, during a sumptuous dinner with my grandparents, my grandfather was harping about the paltry sum he was receiving for Social Security. That led to a rather spirited argument because I vehemently disagreed with him for perhaps the first time in my life.
When the disturb meal was completed the debate got even more intense. In a huff I went into his office, grabbed pen and paper and started knocking down his points. Yes, Social Security had been around for most of his working life but dear old grandpa missed a few things.
First, he hadn’t paid into the system until about 1957. That meant he had only contributed less than two decades into a system. His prior earned wages under Social Security had largely not been taxed because he didn’t earn all that much. Grandfather was a farmer first and a mechanic second. When SS was instituted he was caring for a family of nine on a dollar a day. On his lonely walks into work along the train track he carried a grain bag and filled it with coal that fell off the trains so he could heat his house. He and the family raised their own food and, while not rich, made do.
Second, when he did start paying into the system under the rates then in service, the amount he had put in was returned to him inside the first 23 monthly checks he had received. As I indignantly pointed out to him, the amount of the current check had come from his children’s and grandchildren’s contributions. Grandpa, a staunch construction union man, took this written math with a rather startled acceptance. At the next union meeting he brought this piece of info to light during a discussion over a beer. Because he was a big man he managed to walk out with his hide intact. But he never went back in his remaining 17 years.
But after that discussion, I started thinking about the SS system. If it was that bad for one man, what would it be like for a country of 220 million people, all expecting to collect SS at some point? The math got real ugly, real fast. So in my mid-20s, I knew SS was not going to be a viable prospect when my retirement rolled around.
It’s official now. I am an senior citizen, looking retirement square in the eye but it was with no surprise I read an Associated Press article this morning stating that my generation will be the first to receive less in benefits than it had paid in during their working life. And, no shock here, it was “revealed” future generations are going to get an even smaller fraction of their investment. This pattern will continue until the government admits the failed policy and eliminates the program.
What was true in the article was that a retiree in 1960 could receive about seven times in benefits than what was put in if you made it to average age charts of the SS Administration. While not as large a return it was noted that even in 1985 you could still get more in retirement than you paid in. Then government expanded the rolls of SS to include people who had never paid in at all, benefits dropped sharply and the drain took what little vitality was left in the Permanent Trust Fund before it was stripped clean by overspending Congresses.
But SS is only a small part of the puzzle of our national debt. Every single social program the government has enacted, every legitimate program established under the Constitution and the unbridled bureaucracy growing from such programs is not working. Everything the government touches costs more than it anticipated and returns less benefit than promised.
This is what our politicians and voting electorate don’t understand. Whether it is a road or bridge the current Administration is so fond of or a War on Terror from the previous Administration or a weakening of the banking regulations from Clinton or something else passed through on down the line of history of this country: the government creates nothing, can give nothing but steals everything. It is the same story with a longer plot than communism but it is heading the same way.
What is most disturbing is we all paid withholding taxes on what we made–including the portion that went to SS. Now, when it is about to be returned to us, the government is going to tax it again. At first SS benefits were totally nontaxable then it was moved to 85% exempt. The exemption part is going the way of the dinosaur too. All the graphs and charts for Social Security were built on a ever-growing population feeding an ever-growing economy to keep paying the benefactors at least as much as they had paid in.
What’s the government’s solution to receiving what was paid into the system? Live longer. Now there is a sensible solution for everyone who wants to get something back from the system. All you have to do is beat the odds. We all know we are going to hit the lottery jackpot soon but getting the right set of genes to beat the life longevity tables is even more of a gamble.
Sorry taxpayers. The system known as Social Security is broken, broke and unworkable. Every program the government promises goes the same way or haven’t you noticed the 2.7 million miles of roadwork that needs replacing despite the burgeoning number of paved miles every year.
That’s the real problem America faces in the next four years. We can build anything but we can properly maintain nothing. The initial cost is nothing compared to the upkeep. That is what Social Security really failed at, maintenance.
Now we know the myth for what it is how do we deal with it? Hey, don’t bother me with foolish questions. I’m just sitting here at the end of the line waiting for the government to give me back a piece of what it took from me for the last 40+ years.
“I have sworn on the altar of God eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”–Thomas Jefferson
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