I was in my 20s when I started full time work, and around 10:30 AM on my very first day I thought “How many years do I have to do this?” I recently turned 57 and still trudge to the office, and every day I ask myself “When can I quit working?”
So you would think I would appreciate Social Security, and be grateful that someday the United States government will start sending me a check every month.
But I don’t want someone being forced to work for me. The Federal government, via the Social Security Administration, withholds 6.2% of people’s earnings (up to $128,400 in 2018). So if I sign up for Social Security it means, in essence, that I am making somebody work for me about 2 and a half hours out of their 40 hour work week, or about 16 days a year.
I picture a Federal agent in a few years showing up at the cafeteria where Janet works, a struggling single parent who is wondering how she’ll buy her 8 year old son the cool basketball sneakers he wants. “Just wanted you to know,” the agent tells her, “that every Monday from 9:00AM to 11:30AM you work for . . . let’s see . . . Jeff Harrison.”
“Never heard of him,” says Janet. “Why do I have to work for him? I don’t owe him money.”
“No,” says the Fed, “but he just turned 66 and 2 months and is getting his first Social Security check. You’re one of his contributors.”
“Does he need help?” asks Janet.
“No, actually, in his working days, Jeff earned quite a bit more than you make now. Have a nice day!”
Doesn’t it seem weird that lower-wage workers have to give part of their pay to billionaires like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates? In 2010, 47,000 US millionaires received Social Security money collected from people like Janet.
I know, I know. Social Security is not a welfare program, it’s a mutual support system in which all workers pay in when they work, and take out when they retire. For people who truly need Social Security to live on when their earning days are over, that is fine. That makes sense. Our government should be collecting money for “public” purposes, which can include helping the needy.
But our government should not be taking money from the paychecks of working people like Janet and giving it to someone rich. (True, the government took money from the rich person too, but taking from one person doesn’t justify taking from another.)
So when that day comes when I no longer have to go to work (O Joy!) I hope to forego Social Security, to be able to turn it down. But then, what happens to that money? It stays in the US Treasury. Not an improved outcome.
My wife and I were talking about this, and she had an idea: What if the government offered well-off retirees the choice of diverting all, or part, of their Social Security benefits to other uses? Retirees could even choose where they wanted the money directed. There could be a menu of options, something like this:
To the Social Security Administration:
Please take _____ % of my Social Security benefits and apply the money as follows:
___ National debt
___ National Defense
___ Welfare assistance
___ National Parks
___ Environmental Clean-Ups
Maybe the government could publish a list of those “Diverters” who wanted the recognition, with the percentage of their benefits diverted and where their money went. It might motivate some to do it.
How much money are we talking about? In the month of June 2017, about 42 million retired workers received an average benefit of $1,391. So to play with the numbers . . . if 5% of the retirees, or just over 2 million people, chose to divert $500 each month, that would be a total of $1 billion per month diverted – $12 billion per year.
Twelve billion dollars is some real money. It won’t balance the budget, but for perspective, the 2018 National Park Service budget is $3.2 billion; the 2018 Environmental Protection Agency budget is $5.6 billion. Janet would still have money taken from her, but at least some of it would be going to proper “public” purposes.