HELP LINE: ‘Mom won’t make it’ if Congress doesn’t act

A COUPLE OF weeks ago, I did a column on Social Security.

More specifically, the column was about the foreseeable future of the Social Security Trust Fund, which is less than encouraging.

With my usual Pollyanna optimism, I was (still am) hoping that a lot of us will raise a little … ruckus with Congress.

In that column, I used the phrase, “Mom is not going to make it,” meaning that if the trust fund isn’t “fixed” and Social Security benefits are reduced proportionately, “Mom” is going to be in serious financial trouble.

Here’s a reply I got from Andrea, who actually read it:

“Hi Mark,

“Your telling people that ‘Mom is not going to make it’ is overly dramatic.

“What I learned many years ago is that Social Security was never meant to be people’s sole source of income; it was to be a supplement to their savings and retirements.

“Of course I understand that not everyone has a defined benefit retirement plan anymore, and younger workers are lucky if they have a defined contribution retirement plan.

“Add in the persons (mostly women) who didn’t work outside of the home and whose spouses divorced them with little financial remuneration.

“America now has a large pool of elderly persons who do need a lot of financial help, and unless younger workers regain decent retirement plans, this number will certainly swell.

“I’m sure you are aware of Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vt.

“Miss Fuller was a legal secretary who retired in November 1939.

“She paid in $24.75 between 1937 and 1939 on an income of $2,484.

“She started collecting benefits in January 1940 ($22.54) at age 65 and lived to be 100 years old, dying in 1975 ( and 1940.html).

“I would love to see you write a follow-up column that explains what your readers need to do to be less reliant on the government in the form of Social Security.”

First, Andrea, thanks for taking the time to write, and the website citations are interesting. Thanks.

I’ve heard and read your point about Social Security never being intended to be a sole (or principal) source of retirement income a number of times, and I’m sure that’s correct.

My point is that I think it’s too late to care.

For all of the reasons you cite above, plus several others, including folks who never had the economic opportunity to save and/or invest in the first place, Social Security is the principal (if not, sole) source of retirement income; in many cases, family income.

That’s just how it is.

I don’t doubt that there are those among us who might have squandered opportunities to be better prepared for the golden years.

I also don’t doubt (because I meet and talk to them often) that there are many among us who never had those opportunities in the first place, and reminding them now of Congress’ intent close to 100 years later does little to keep the lights on.

I don’t think it helps us to get political here, so I’m not going to — but I am going to observe that I’ve met many a “Mom” who is not going to “make it” (financially) if her Social Security benefit is reduced by “X” percent because of an inadequate trust fund.

To me, that leaves little to be (realistically) done, except try to get Congress to act.

My attempting to “… write a follow-up column that explains what your readers need to do to be less reliant on the government in the form of Social Security,” would be, to say the least, inappropriate.

First, I am grossly unqualified and, second, any such imagined recommendations would be predicated on the assumption that a person would be young enough and employed enough (or, “flush enough”) to actually do something about it.

And those are pretty hefty assumptions.

I imagine that, at some point, even the Donner Party had to say, “Well, it doesn’t much matter does it, because here we are!”

And here we, as a nation and a society, are.

I think that having a national discussion about restructuring and reimagining Social Security for the future is long overdue, but I don’t believe that, for a lot of elders and folks with disabilities in the here-and-now, such a conversation will help.

We are where we are, and if Congress doesn’t act, I stand by my original statement:

Mom is not going to make it.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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