I just got an email that absolutely floored me. Honestly, it even brought a lump to my throat. It has to do with something that happened about 25 years ago, while I was working for the Social Security Administration in San Diego, California. Frankly, it was a rather routine occurrence for me back then, and still is today. Let me explain — and then we will get to this guy's email.
For almost 50 years now, I have been making speeches and other presentations to large and small groups around the country about Social Security. For most of those years, I was doing so as an official representative of SSA. But I retired from SSA in 2005, and for the past 13 years I've been freelancing as a private Social Security consultant.
I'd guess that at more than half the presentations I make, someone in the audience gets up on their soapbox and starts ranting and raving about Social Security. Or rather, as they so often cleverly put it (at least in their own minds), "Social Insecurity." They go on and on about how the program is a government boondoggle, a sham, a Ponzi scheme, a fraud, a rip-off, a liberal hoax and yadda yadda yadda! If they are younger, they always say they are convinced the program will be broke before they ever collect a dime in benefits. If they are older, they say that Social Security will go belly up long before their kids ever reach retirement age.
I always let them go on for a minute or two. Usually by then, other members of the audience will have asked the guy (and it's always been a man who interrupts me) to shut up and sit down.
I actually don't mind the intrusion. Because it lets me make some points, not just to the ranting interrupter but to the rest of the assembled crowd as well. I tell them to recall stories they may have heard about those so-called "good old days" before Social Security came along. But what they may not have heard is that 50 percent of all senior citizens were living below the poverty level. And many of them were living with their grown children because they couldn't afford a place of their own.
Today, after about eight decades of Social Security payments, the senior citizen poverty level is below 10 percent. And not only are most older folks living in their own homes: Many of them have second homes or vacation cottages. Or they are traveling a lot. Or, like my wife and me, they are enjoying visits from the grandkids and playing lots of Scrabble games on the back porch. In other words, most senior citizens are rather content and happy. And Social Security is a big reason for that.
And as far as the "insecurity" of Social Security, I point out that the program has been paying benefits to millions of Americans on time every month for 80 years now. I always ask the interrupter, "How long must Social Security be around before you finally acknowledge that it is here to stay?"
I also take a few minutes to point out that the program surely faces some challenges now because of the retirement of the baby boom generation. But then I explain (as I've done hundreds of times in this column), that with a few relatively modest adjustments to Social Security taxes or benefits, the program will be around for many generations to come.
So now, let's get to this email I got. This is just a slightly shortened version of what showed up in my inbox earlier this week.
"I was at a speech you gave to a rotary club meeting in San Diego about 25 years ago. I'm not sure if you remember the incident, but I got up and challenged you. I don't recall everything I said, but I know I used the term 'Social Insecurity' and went on about how I thought the program was a sham foisted on the American people by FDR (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and his cronies. I was about 60 years old at the time, and I said I was pretty sure the program would be broke before I had a chance to collect benefits. And I further said I was absolutely convinced Social Security would no longer be around for my kids.
"Well, fast-forward almost a quarter century later. I'm now living in Palm Springs and I saw your column in one of our local papers. I couldn't believe this was the same Social Security guy I saw at the San Diego rotary club all those years earlier. Anyway, I wanted you to know that my wife and I have been getting our Social Security checks for almost 20 years now. And our oldest son and his wife just signed up and started getting their Social Security checks. So I wanted you to know that I was wrong and you were right. And I just wanted to say that I am sorry for interrupting your speech all those many years ago. If you ever are in the Palm Springs area, let me take you out to lunch!"
Well, as I said, this email choked me up a bit. What a wonderful gesture. This has never happened to me in my almost half-century of dealing with Social Security issues. I must admit that I have often wondered about all those folks who, over the years, have ranted and raved about the supposed "insecurity" of Social Security. I knew that most of them were probably now collecting monthly benefits. And I wondered if any of them had changed their minds. Well, now I know that at least one of them has.
And by the way, I let this guy know that if I ever do make it to Palm Springs, lunch would be on me, as a thank you for his noble gesture. And now, let's turn to another email I also got this week.
Q: You should discuss the risks of Socialist Insecurity, revealing how people could lose their benefits to the government if they do not live to collect any benefits and have no eligible survivors. Socialist Insecurity is the ultimate political scheme that assures politicians of their long-term incumbency. But FICA payers don`t deserve to lose their hard-earned retirement money just to keep corrupt politicians in office. So, let the revolution begin! No more FICA taxation without representation.
A: I don't give actual names of email writers in this column. But let's call the guy who wrote the email discussed in the first part of this column "Frank." And let's call the guy who sent this email to me "Bill." Gosh, Bill, I sure would like to introduce you to Frank. And if you can get to Palm Springs, maybe we can take you out to that lunch we are planning.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at [email protected] To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.