June 14, 2024 8:20 pm
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You Must Pay In To Get Something Out – Social Security and You

More than a few people are just bound and determined to believe the worst about the government in general and about the Social Security system in particular.

Here is one example of that. In my recent survey of the services provided by the Social Security Administration, hundreds of my readers praised the agency and gave it an average rating of 4.5 stars (out of 5). But borrowing a phrase from former Vice President Spiro Agnew, more than a few “nattering nabobs of negatism” also piped up with comments similar to this one: “We all know the government can’t do anything right. And the SSA gets one star because it can’t do anything right, either.” Another person said this: “I give the SSA one star. Even though I’ve never been to a Social Security office, I can only imagine it’s 10 times worse than your typical driver’s license bureau!”

First, let me say a word in defense of the much-maligned driver’s license bureaus. I recently had occasion to renew my license. I made an appointment online. I showed up at the bureau’s office in my city at the prescribed time. The office was clean and modern and well-organized. Places were clearly marked where those of us with appointments could wait. Within a few minutes, my name was called, and a friendly agent took care of me. The entire process took about 10 minutes. (I know that obviously driver’s license bureaus can change from state to state and even from city to city. I’m just relaying my experience. 5 stars!)

Anyway, back to Social Security. I think a big reason for all the “negatism” about Social Security has to do with the many unfounded myths and rumors that are out there, mostly in the online world, about the program. And then those rumors get spread from one naive and uninformed “nattering nabob” to another.

In fact, there are so many myths, I devoted an entire book to them. It’s called “Social Security: 100 Myths and 100 Facts.” You can get the book at Amazon.com and other booksellers.

In today’s column, I’m going to deal with one of those myths. It usually goes something like this: “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with Social Security. It’s all those people getting benefits who never put a dime into the system! There are millions of them!”

Let me start by saying this: There isn’t a single soul getting a Social Security check who hasn’t worked and paid into the system or who isn’t a spouse or child of someone who has worked and paid into the system.

I had a recent email exchange about this with a reader. He said that it’s those spouses and children that he is talking about. He wanted to know how many of those kinds of folks there are.

I answered his question, but first, I asked: “So what’s your point? Should these people be kicked out of the program?” And surprisingly, he said: “Yes. In my view, if you yourself haven’t worked and paid Social Security taxes, you should not get a Social Security benefit.”

I don’t think I need to tell most of my readers that is an extreme and misguided view of how a social insurance system should work. If his ideas became reality, I think I would put him in charge of contacting each widow personally and saying something like this: “I’m sorry, ma’am, even though your husband worked for 50 years paying Social Security taxes before he died, because you never paid into the system yourself, we are going to have to cut off your Social Security checks.”

And I’d also have him call all the children of a deceased parent and tell them: “I’m sorry, little one. I know your dad died and you’re getting some Social Security on his account. But because you haven’t worked, I’m afraid we’re going to have to stop your checks. Good luck!”

I sure am glad that guy, and guys like him, aren’t running the country. What a mean and heartless place it would be. Anyway, he still insisted that I tell him how many spouses and children were getting benefits. Here are numbers for the roughly 66 million Social Security beneficiaries:

— Retired workers: 48.5 million, or 74% of all beneficiaries

— Spouse and children of retirees: 2.7 million, or 4%

— Disabled workers: 7.6 million, or 12%

— Spouse and children of disabled workers: 1.2 million, or 2%

— Widows(ers) and children of deceased workers: 5.8 million, or 8%

Someone could look at those numbers and say that about 9.7 million people, or roughly 14% of all Social Security beneficiaries, are getting Social Security checks even though they themselves haven’t paid into the system.

But it’s not quite that simple. Many of those getting benefits as a spouse or widow are what is known as “dually entitled.” That means they are getting some benefits on their own record, and then they are getting some extra benefits from a spouse’s Social Security account. In other words, even though they are getting supplemental “dependent” benefits, they have worked and paid into the system.

Another reader sent me an email about “those people on disability who are getting benefits they never worked for.” That gullible guy has bought into the myth that people getting disability benefits are deadbeats who are somehow ripping off the taxpayers.

So let me make this very clear: You cannot get Social Security disability benefits unless you have worked and paid Social Security taxes.

I think I know where these rumors get started. There is a program with a confusing name called Supplemental Security Income. The program is managed by the Social Security Administration, and it sounds like it is some kind of Social Security supplement. It is not. It is a federal welfare program that, even though it is run by the SSA, is paid for out of general revenues, not Social Security taxes. SSI pays a small monthly stipend (rarely more than about $900) to poor people who are over age 65 or who are disabled.

There may be people on SSI who have never worked and paid taxes. But again, this program has nothing to do with Social Security.

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One Response

  1. No true, 25 year old drug addicts can hop on SS disability for life and never pay a dime. I have been at the SS office when they are approved.

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