Watching Bill Maher last week, I was arrested by his suggestion that those who qualify for Social Security and are well-off should not collect their government checks, but should instead let their share continue to nourish the starving Social Security system. It's a good idea.
Social Security has become an entitlement in the United States because all employees are legally required to pay into it. I don't think it should be.
Here's how Wikipedia explains Social Security: "Social Security in the United States currently refers to the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program. . . . U.S. Social Security is a social insurance program funded through dedicated payroll taxes called Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA)."
I gave up my Social Security rights years ago. Here's why. When I was a child, my father was killed in a plane crash. Social Security checks arrived monthly for me from the time I was five until I was twenty-one. My two younger brothers received a monthly check, too. We were survivors. Those checks made my childhood a relatively financially comfortable place.
Fast forward ten years. I became a minister. Under the Internal Revenue Code, a minister may apply for exemption from Social Security Tax with the understanding that the minister will not qualify for benefits later. It's predicated on the notion that we preachers don't have jobs that we'll retire from, but that we have callings which mean that we'd rather die in the pulpit than retire.
That's not why I applied for the exemption. I applied for the exemption because I figured I already got my share of Social Security. I'm no longer entitled to it. Let someone else have the few thousands that I've put in over the years.
When Bill Maher made the suggestion about some of us leaving our shares in the system, as visions of that ever-running clip of Bernard B. Madoff swirled in my head, I remarked to my beloved that Social Security is really a sort of Ponzi scheme. My partner whirled on me and pounced: You're right!
Wikipedia explains Ponzi scheme thus: "A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors rather than from any actual profit earned."
It's not fraudulent per se, but isn't that a pretty good description of how Social Security works?
Bill and his guests were also talking about a temporary cessation of payroll taxes which would put instant money into our pockets if we are employees. I liked this more and more. A cessation of payroll tax influx into Social Security whilst a bipartisan task force revamps it sounds commendable to me.
A client of mine just returned from a wrenching week with her nonagenarian parents who aren't really ill, but aren't really well either. They require 24-hour nursing care. Part of what's going toward paying that cost is Social Security programs. I don't begrudge them their benefits -- they paid in their share -- but it does make me wonder.
My client lives 2,000 miles from her parents. Two siblings live within five minutes by car. No one wants to take these national treasures into their homes. I don't blame them -- it's close to impossible to be a full time caregiver.
Death and dying have become a multi-billion dollar industry because we no longer have a tradition of caring for our elderly, or letting go. My client's parents live in a lovely assisted living community, cared for by strangers.
I can't help but think that if we were all to return to our heritage of taking care of one another, reinforcing the proper entitlement of all beings, that Social Security might no longer be the entitlement that it's become and then it just might be able to take care of itself.
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