Thoughts on My Newly Retired Social Security Blanket

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I see that we won’t get a cost of living raise from Social Security for the second year in a row. I say “we” because I started taking Social Security when I retired from my newspaper job at age 64. It was a good time to take an early out. Downsizing had begun.

I opted to not wait until 66 to get the full Social Security amount because, frankly, I wanted in the system. I didn’t want to wait and have the government say, "Oops, too late. You’re out. Rule change.”

Other than the taxes I’d been paying into every week towards Social Security all my working life, I’d never thought much about the system. I just thought of Social Security as being part of my future just as I did some form of retirement, Medicare and cheaper movie tickets. They were kind of a sure thing. Of course I always thought the newspaper business and California real estate were sure things, too.

If you are a career women in her 60s and thinking about retiring these days, you’re feeling pretty vulnerable. Social Security and Medicare are under attack. There’s talk of raising the retirement age, thereby encouraging people to put off taking Social Security for a few more years. That might be easier to support if you knew a lot of downsized friends who managed to get great new jobs at age 65.

Since my husband, also a life-long journalist, and I are new to Social Security, and we can still find part-time writing jobs, we don’t rely on it as much as others. Not this year, anyway.

People get into the news biz not for the money. In our full working years, we didn’t save much, hardly invested at all. Back when George W. started talking about privatizing Social Security, I shuddered at the idea. Just imagine if  “reform” had been in the works when we were raising our three daughters.  Had we had the option of moving our Social Security contributions into the market that money would have been sucked out as fast as you could say college or new bathroom.

I know there are of lot of disappointed people who were counting on a COLA increase, but what I find most threatening are attempts to even mess with Social Security. This is not time to be shredding the safety net. Here we are with a small minority holding most of the wealth of the country, a growing number of poor and a shrinking middle class. Even people who wisely saved for their retirement have lost their savings. Having something you can count to help keep you from the street is probably as essential now as when Social Security got started during the Great Depression.

I don’t know anyone who dreams of getting their Social Security check and putting their feet up. The average benefit is only $1,072 a month. And women get socked the hardest, often receiving less in Social Security than men and needing it longer because we live longer.

Yet some try to make Social Security sound like an entitlement, like free money. Remember Alan Simpson, the former Senator who, of course, enjoys a fat government pension, poetically referring to Social Security as “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” We paid for it, Alan.

Social security is about community and society. It’s not private. It’s collective. I like the idea that the FICA money taken out of my pay for more than 40 years cushioned retirement for an older worker, maybe even an old newspaper columnist.

And then came my turn. As it will, I hope and pray, for our daughters, all hard-working career women. I’d much rather have the government looking out for their future, than, say,  Bank of America.

Susan Swartz also blogs at www.juicytomatoes.com and VibrantNation.com

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