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Social Security and You: The Social Security 'Goody Bag'

Tom Margenau on

At least once a day, I get one or more emails that start out with some form of this phrase: "I'll tell you what's wrong with Social Security!" And then they go on from there to trot out time-worn arguments that have been bandied about for years and are usually groundless.

One of the more common gripes goes like this: "I'll tell you what's wrong with Social Security. They've added too many perks to the program over the years. If they would just get rid of the goody bag and take the system back to what it was when it started, we wouldn't have any problems today!" Or, as another reader recently told me: "Today's Social Security program includes too many freebies for freeloaders! We need to get back to basics -- to the law's original intent!"

Well let's think about that for a minute. The original Social Security Act, passed in 1935, included retirement benefits for people 65 and older who were totally retired. That's it. Period. Nothing else!

So, if these "back to basics" naysayers had their way, that means we would have no early retirement benefits at age 62. Those millions of people getting early retirement benefit could kiss their checks goodbye because they are in the "goody bag."

It also would mean we would not pay benefits to anyone 65 and older if they were still working. The original Social Security law required that you must be completely retired to collect benefits. So, tough luck for all the working seniors out there. Your benefits are also in the "goody bag."

Oh, and there would be no extra bonus for people who delay taking benefits until a later age. Millions of seniors currently plan to work until 70 in order to get a 32% bonus added to their checks. Emptying the "goody bag" would mean turning off that incentive to delay retirement.

 

There also would be no benefits for spouses, widows or widowers. And if a young worker dies and leaves small children, tough luck. No government benefits for them. All these spousal and survivor benefits are in the "goody bag."

And there would be no disability benefits. So, if you have a heart attack at age 60, that's just too bad. You would just have to wait until you are 65 to collect your Social Security, assuming you live that long.

I could go on and on. There are tens of millions of people getting Social Security benefits today who would not qualify for anything under the original Social Security law. Are all those people getting superfluous and unnecessary benefits out of a governmental giveaway "goody bag"? Or has the Social Security program evolved over the years to meet the changing needs of our society?

I think that's an important point that needs to be made. Social Security did not expand over the years because Congress was looking for ways to hand out "freebies to freeloaders." The program changed because there were legitimate needs that people had and that a caring, compassionate society needed to provide. That's why, today, we have Social Security benefits for working seniors, spouses, widows, orphaned children, divorced women and disabled workers.

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