Friday, April 12, 2013

Blessed by Social Securiy

The Short History of a Grateful Beneficiary

          Most liberals believe that society should do something to protect “the most vulnerable among us,” as politicians like to phrase it. That means the very young, the elderly, and the poor—people who can’t work at regular jobs for various, pre-approved reasons.
Thank you, FDR!
            At 72, I reluctantly admit I fall into the elderly class, and on top of that I’ve been poor most of my adult life because I rarely held a full-time, paying job. For over 30 years now I’ve worked at what I love—creating performances in small theater spaces.
            At one theater where I was a co-founder a board member asked us—the artistic staff—to keep track of the hours we put in over a certain number of weeks. This had something to do with fund-raising.
            I think I was the only one who kept track of my hours, but I did it diligently. I learned—and reported back to the board—that I was working for the theater about 70 hours a week. Without pay.
           That’s an example of why I’m poor. Why I’m elderly is a matter of fate. People just age. Nothing I could do about it, except die, and so far Death has been only mildly interested in me.
            So I am among those who most liberals believe society should protect. It seems many if not most conservatives disagree. Naturally that means I support liberal politicians.
            But because of my sporadic work record I had no idea I would ever qualify for Social Security. I assumed not. Imagine, then, my shock and surprise when a letter arrived informing me that I was eligible for benefits at my 62nd birthday, just a few months away. The amount, if I
took it then rather than later, would be several hundred dollars a month. If I waited, I could get more. But it was a monthly stipend! It’s what I needed all my life!
            I gladly took the government’s deal while I also and continued working, putting more away in my Social Security retirement plan each year, watching my monthly stipend rise. I thought—and still think—it’s a pretty good program, and an honest one, too. I don’t feel I cheated anybody by my good fortune in having that benefit.
            But then the economy went bad because a lot of people did cheat, collecting enormous benefits. One of my jobs—contributing writer for a weekly newspaper—disappeared. I also had a heart attack. I was 68. Two years later I broke a hip in a stupid fall out of our loft bed. A year and a half after that I reinjured it in another stupid fall from a bicycle. Now, hobbling about as I do, I may not be physically able to continue at a job I’ve relied upon for 17 years—Custodian at Christ United Methodist Church (part time).
            So when plutocrats and politicians talk about cutting Social Security, they’re talking about holding back a few dollars from people like me to cover all the billions they lost through reckless speculation. They want me and people like me and even people far better off than me to cover the debts they ran up because of their own and their cronies’ gambling addictions.
            But what if many or most or all debts were simply forgiven and we started over afresh? I think the Jews call that Jubilee, so it’s not against religion. People who have walked away from bad mortgages report a new lease on life. And some developing countries are doing better today because they unilaterally cancelled their debts for loans from the U.S.-controlled World Bank.
            I hear what the politicians say, I see what they do, and they reflect back to me a world that’s all about money, a world controlled by self-interest. But is that true? That there’s no freedom, no power, no privilege without money? No paradise you don’t have to pay for? No security in a world of financial predators?
            It’s very hard for me to believe the world is really like that. But if I did believe it, I suppose I’d be a conservative, too.

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