After I published a recent column discussing possible Social Security reforms, lots of people wrote to tell me that no changes would be needed to the system if benefits were paid only to people who “deserve” Social Security. I am always intrigued, and usually a little perturbed, by such allegations. They usually come from people who tell me that they worked hard all their life and paid lots of taxes, so of course they deserve every nickel of their Social Security checks, but “those other people” didn’t, so they should be cut off the government dole.
I almost always just read these emails, and then hit the “delete” button, figuring they just need to vent. But this time, I decided to get back to some of them to find out just who they think these so-called non-deserving Social Security recipients are. And here are some of their very interesting responses.
One guy told me that “we could save Social Security if we stopped paying benefits to gold-digging wives.” Well, I checked my dictionary to make sure I had the right definition. A “gold-digging wife” is a woman who marries a man for his money. And in this case, I guess we must be talking about a woman who marries a man in order to get half of his Social Security check. At the very most, that could be all of about $1,300. C’mon, buddy, do you really think there are that many women out there who have married an old goat in order to get 1,300 bucks a month?
And even if that were true, then how would we decide just who these women are? Maybe we could add a question to the dependent wife’s application form that asks: “Did you marry your husband for a) Love; or b) Money?” And if they answer “b,” we could just stamp the application “Denied.” Sorry, pal, but that’s not the best idea you’ve ever had.
When I asked another guy who he thought didn’t deserve their Social Security, he said, “Those @#$%& government employees who only paid into the system for a short time and then get a big fat Social Security check.”
Well, the vast majority of government employees work and pay Social Security taxes for all of their working lifetime, just like any other worker. There is a small percentage of government employees who pay into a separate retirement system, but they do spend some time working another job and paying into Social Security. But I can guarantee you they are NOT getting “a big fat Social Security check.”
I will use myself as an example. I spent my whole government career paying into the civil service retirement system, not Social Security. (Although all federal civil servants hired after 1982 pay into Social Security.) But I have done about 15 years’ worth of work on the side at jobs where I did pay into Social Security. And for all those years of Social Security-covered earnings, after a reduction in benefits called the Windfall Elimination Provision (which I’ve discussed many times in this column), I get a whopping $165 per month. If you don’t think I deserve that measly 165 bucks after paying Social Security taxes for 15 years, well then you deserve the “Scrooge of the Year” award.
Yet another venting emailer told me that “it’s those deadbeats on disability who don’t deserve their Social Security checks.” That’s just an expression of the commonly held belief that everyone in this country receiving a disability check has pulled a fast one on unsuspecting bureaucrats and is cheating the system by faking an impairment and getting on the government dole.
I have explained countless times in this column that the Social Security disability program is known for having the most-stringent qualifying requirements of just about any disability program in the country. In other words, it is much more difficult to get Social Security disability than any other form of disability compensation. Just as one example, the VA offers monthly benefits to veterans who have a 10 percent disability, or maybe a 50 percent disability. On the other hand, you must be 100 percent disabled and show that you are unable to do any kind of work to qualify for Social Security disability.
Every single time I mention that in this column, I hear from readers who tell me something like this. “You’re lying. My brother-in-law is getting disability and there is nothing wrong with him. He’s just a lazy deadbeat.” When I hear such allegations, I always tell them the same thing: “If you think he is cheating the system, turn him in. You can go to www.socialsecurity.gov and click on the ‘Report Fraud’ link and make an anonymous report.” And guess what? They never do. In other words, their gripes are groundless.
Who else doesn’t deserve Social Security? Well, as one guy wrote: “I worked hard all my life. But it’s those bums who work only a short period of time who don’t deserve what they get!” This kind of thinking is boneheaded on several counts.
First, if you work for 10 years or less, you simply won’t get a nickel in Social Security benefits. Second, once you reach that 10-year qualifying threshold, your benefit is commensurate with the amount of work you’ve done and the amount of taxes you’ve paid. The vast majority of people in this country work and pay Social Security taxes for 35 years or more, and their eventual retirement benefit is based on that lifetime of earnings. In fact, all Social Security retirement benefits are based on a 35-year base of earnings. So, for example, if you only work for 20 years, when they figure your Social Security benefit, they are going to have to add 15 years of “zero” earnings into your retirement computation, giving you a dramatically reduced benefit. And just as I think I deserve the $165 I get for my 15 years of work, I’m sure most people would agree that someone who worked and paid taxes for 20 years deserves that small compensation that he or she gets.
Here is the bottom-line point I need to make: When many people talk about Social Security reform, they are always looking for easy answers. “Get rid of gold-digging wives!” “Cut off checks to those no-good government employees!” And so on. But those are just mindless rants. They are not real solutions for reform.