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Social Security and You: Working Women, Stay-At-Home Moms And Social Security

Tom Margenau on

Sometimes I will write what I think is the most harmless and innocuous column about a Social Security issue -- and then all hell breaks loose! It happened again recently. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column in which I explained that a workingwoman will generally be paid her own Social Security benefit first. Only after that will they will look to her husband's record to see if she can get any additional benefits. Well, that triggered a whole host of emails, some of them quite angry. Here is an example.

Q: I can't believe how Social Security discriminates against women like me who were forced to work in order to maintain a certain standard of living. It's a travesty that these lazy women who never worked a day in their lives and who got to stay home and let their husbands take care of them get essentially the same benefits that I do. I know a lady from our church who never worked a day in her life, and she gets Social Security from her husband -- and I get squat! What's wrong with this picture?

A: Wow! There is some anger there -- on a whole lot of levels. I'm not even going to touch your sentiments about stay-at-home wives and mothers. I'll let someone more versed in women's issues deal with that. But I will discuss your concerns about Social Security. And I think the best way I can do that is to once again share this story about my mom and the lady who lived next door to us.

I grew up in a small town where you could find rich folks in big houses living very near to poor folks occupying much more modest dwellings. And that was true of our neighborhood. My dad was a janitor struggling to make ends meet. My mother had to work to help pay the rent and keep enough groceries on the table to feed me and my three siblings.

Just behind our house and across the alley was a big home owned by the vice president of a local bank. His wife, even though she had a degree in journalism, never worked outside the home once the first of an eventual brood of six children came along.

My brothers and sister and I got along famously with the children of the banker and his wife. We were always playing games, shooting baskets or just hanging out. On the other hand, our parents rarely spoke. I guess the economic and educational gulf between them was just too great to foster any kind of meaningful relationship.

 

And that gulf only widened later in life between my mom and the neighbor lady after both of their husbands died. Sadly, most of the friction and resentment came from my mom's side of the alley. And much of it had to do with Social Security.

Because my mom had worked most of her life, she received her own Social Security retirement benefit. The widows rate she was due on my dad's Social Security account was only slightly higher than her own, so she did get a small bump in her monthly checks from my dad's side of the Social Security ledger.

Across the alley, the neighbor lady received no benefits on her own Social Security account, but she did get a rather substantial widows benefit from her deceased banker husband. It was 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!"

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