Senior Living


Health & Spirit

Social Security and You: Social Security and My Mom

Tom Margenau on

Across the alley, the neighbor lady received no benefits on her own Social Security account, but she did get a rather substantial widow's benefit from her deceased banker husband. It was quite a bit more than my mother received from her combined accounts.

And this peeved my mother to no end. Sadly, she lived the rest of her life bearing deep resentment, partly to her neighbor, and partly to the Social Security system that allowed what she perceived to be this injustice to happen. I can still hear her griping: "THAT WOMAN never worked a day in her life. And there she is in that big house, getting more money each month from the government than me, a woman who worked hard all her life just trying to make ends meet!"

I used to ask my mom this: "If you believe things are unfair, what do you think we should do about it? Should we take widow's benefits away from Mrs. (X) because you don't think she deserves them?" My mother might get a nasty little gleam in her eye with that thought, but she always admitted that the neighbor was due her widow's benefits.

My mom would counter with this: "I think I should get my own full Social Security benefit AND my own full widow's benefit. After all, I worked and paid for my Social Security, and your dad worked and paid for his Social Security!" On the surface, it seems like a valid point. In fact, I've heard thousands of workingwomen make the same argument over the years.

But here is the flip side of that coin: If workingwomen can get their own retirement benefits and full spousal benefits, then shouldn't workingmen be offered the same? For example, why can't I get my own Social Security retirement benefit and at the same time collect husband's benefits on my wife's Social Security account?

Or here is another example. I have a neighbor who is a widower. He was an executive with a large corporation. His wife was a librarian. They each got their own Social Security. But his benefit was much larger than hers. Now that she is gone, should he be allowed to get his own rather generous Social Security check and a dependent widower's benefit from his wife's Social Security?

The truth is: Social Security spousal and survivor benefits have always been classified as "dependent's" benefits. They are meant to be paid to a lower-earning (or no-earning) spouse who was financially dependent on the higher-income spouse. They were never meant to be some kind of add-on marital bonus. Indeed, the Social Security system would have gone bankrupt decades ago if we were doing that!


If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at 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



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