Social Security, me, and Juan Williams

My dad came home sick from work on my third birthday. Two weeks later, he died at home. Heart attack. He was 47 years old.

I am the youngest of seven, and at age 45, Flo (my mom), was left to support us. She found a job at a local bakery, got to work on her G.E.D., and relied on Social Security survivors benefits to make ends meet.

I'm not going to be at the Capitol, but I will be at the National Press Club.

Back then, Social Security benefits were available for surviving children until age 21, as long as they went to college. Without Social Security I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to college at all. Years later, when I lost my sight, my college experience and education came in handy when I had to learn to use a talking computer to launch my career as a writer. These days I credit Social Security for helping me support myself as an adult.

An organization called Generations United is sponsoring an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. this Monday about the growing interdependence of generations in America. Juan Williams will moderate a panel at the event, and I’ve been asked to say a few words about Social Security survivor benefits. Most people think of seniors when they think of Social Security, but over the years survivor benefits have also helped Millions of young widows, widowers, and children. Like Flo. And Me.

I was fortunate to have received Social Security benefits when they were still available to college students. I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1981, and the student benefit was discontinued by Congress in 1983. Now Social Security survivor benefits end when a child turns 18 (exception: if a child is 18 and still in high school, the survivor benefit  lasts until s/he graduates, or until two
months after reaching age 19, whichever comes first). A Generations United Fact Sheet says a college education is more necessary in today’s economy than it was back in 1981, when I graduated: college graduates earn, on average, 61 percent more over their lifetimes than high school graduates do. And as the value of a college education grows, so does its cost (roughly double since 1979). The fact sheet says the Social Security actuary estimated it would cost .07 percent of taxable payroll to restore the benefit (measured over the traditional 75-year Social Security window). There was no estimate of how much these additional College graduates (making higher wages and paying higher payroll taxes) would offset the cost of restoring the student benefit, but it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to figure this out. I pay into Social Security now, and Flo paid into it for more than 20 years. After she passed her G.E.D., she worked as an office clerk until she was 70 years old.

Survivor benefits helped Flo and our family make it through hard times, and student benefits helped me become the independent person I am now. Restoring the student benefit could help today’s vulnerable young people, too. That’s what I’m going to say to the policy-makers at the National Press Club on Monday. I just hope they’re out there listening.

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12 Responses to “Social Security, me, and Juan Williams”


  1. 1 Lauren November 12, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Amen! Preach it, Sister! You are so right. My husband also benefited from SSI (another arm of Soc. Sec.) throughout college and graduate school. He now pays LOTS into the system. Like you, Beth, he was a solid investment for the government to make. I’d wager there are lots of other eager, needy young people whose potential makes them good investments!

  2. 2 bethfinke November 12, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    You know, so many people, when they hear me say what I’ll be talking about at the Press Club this Monday, well, they come back with a story of receiving this student benefit themselves, or knowing someone else who did. We are staying with our friends Pick and Hank in DC, we’ve known them over 25 years, and until I mentioned this to Pick I had no idea that he, too, went to college thanks to Social Security survivor benefits. These people I hear about, by the way, are all now paying back into the system. Three cheers for solid governmental investments!

  3. 3 Jill November 12, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    That’s an impressive pulpit you’ll have, Bethie. I can’t add to your list of folks who have benefited but I sure have paid a lot in over the years and this is exactly the used I would want. And your analysis of the investment is spot on. We’ll be cheering you on — good luck!

  4. 5 Matzpen November 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    If those highly paid politicians who want austerity and budget cuts get their hands on our Social Security we’re all going to die in toothless poverty
    http://sherrytalksback.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/an-empire-going-kaput/

  5. 6 judy ciambotti November 12, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Thanks for the info. I’ve never known how that worked. Thanks for going to DC to represent your view. I’m sure millions of people were effected by the change in 1983. You are so on target.

  6. 7 Cheryl November 13, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    “Ms Finke Goes to Washington”….very proud of you!

  7. 8 marilee November 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    How awesome that you are on the panel! And that you get to see Pick and Hank too! Those Social Security funds helped our family “survive” and helped us all go to college. I know that you will represent all young survivors and you are the perfect voice!

  8. 9 becky November 13, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    So very grateful for the support I received in getting my bachelor’s. Helped immensely and who knows where I’d be without that … now, yes, paying back so very grateful.

  9. 10 Lolly November 14, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Hi, Beth,

    Kudos to you for taking on a hotbutton issue. Whether it’s survivers benefits, SSI, SSDI or social Security for retirement, it’s a hotbutton issue that divides and polarizes.

    I, too, benefited from Survivers benefits at the age of 21 in 1976, when my father died during my junior year in college. Today, I work for the state of MN on a federal grant to increase employment of people with disabilities.

    The unemployment rate in the disability community is still unacceptably high. But, the difference now is that we are moving toward a philosophy of “Opting in,” rather than opting out of work. This is so complicated as to not being something that could be explained in this brief space, but it is a sea change that we hope will help our nation meet its workforce needs into the future.

    The problem is the long-term view of Social Security, and the lack of political will to do anything about saving it for generations to come. It’s that long-term broad view of the program you will be facing with panelists like Juan Williams.

    Good luck, and let us know how it goes.

  10. 11 nancyb November 14, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    Knock ‘em dead, Beth! Wonderful.


  1. 1 The reviews are in « Safe & Sound blog Trackback on November 16, 2010 at 12:26 am

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