Let's up the Social Security tax

Sample Social Security card

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

SCOTT JAGOW: With the midterm elections coming up, we're looking at the economic issues people really care about. The ones the politicians might not be addressing. Today, we hear from Jim Carrier. He's an author and a former newspaper editor.


JIM CARRIER: This year, I asked Uncle Sam to keep his promise to support me in old age. I started taking Social Security.

I didn't retire. I'm still writing. But I had a rough year, losing everything in Katrina in New Orleans.

The one thing I could count on was that Social Security check. At 62, I could $1,400 a month in perpetuity, $17,000 a year. That would pay the rent while I freelanced.

But as I waited for that first check, political blather about fixing a "broken" system made me feel a little guilty. Suddenly, after 40 years of paying taxes, I was a burden to the nation. If I lived to 85, I would cost taxpayers, including my daughter, nearly $400,000!

My "entitlement" had become an epithet, like "welfare queen."

Then I looked at all the numbers.

I was surprised to learn that over 41 years, I made a million dollars! The best year was $70,000. The average was $27,000. It went for houses and a kid.

But my total social security tax for four decades was only $63,000. I didn't even miss it. And in 16 of those years my income hit the government ceiling. I wish they'd taken more.

But what if Social Security hadn't existed? Would I have set aside hundreds of thousands to provide for myself?

Not likely. I proved that 10 years ago when I cashed an annuity and bought a sailboat. I sailed to Spain and had lots of fun. But as an investment it was worse than Enron.

So this idea of privatizing, of letting me own my retirement, would have been another Katrina.

But if Uncle Sam had put my $63,000 in an S&P 500 index fund, it would be worth more than half a million dollars.

If he'd bought T-bills, my nest egg would total $155,000. And that's not counting the employers' share, which would double those returns — plenty to pay me $17,000 until I'm dead.

This election, nobody's talking about Social Security. Too bad.

While we're busy working, Congress could fix the system and stop passing the buck to our kids.

Uncle Sam could take a little more out of each paycheck, invest it safely on our behalf, and keep his promise with our money.

JAGOW: Jim Carrier is a freelance writer in Montgomery, Alabama.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...