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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sometimes I am just blown away by the reaction I get to a column. I write what I think is the most innocuous and non-controversial answer to someone’s question about Social Security benefits — and then, out of the blue, my email inbox is flooded with letters. Some of them have an inquisitive “this can’t possibly be true” tone, while others are downright angry.

The most recent example of this phenomenon occurred following a column I wrote a few weeks ago in which I answered a question from a retiree about the benefits due to his wife and children. Many readers were shocked, and some irritated, to learn that a retiree’s children and his younger wife could qualify for monthly Social Security checks on his account.

Here’s a typical response: “You must be wrong about benefits due a retiree’s children. Surely those kinds of benefits are only paid if the children are disabled.” Here is another: “I’ve always heard that children get benefits if a parent has died, but I can’t believe that they get checks if their father has retired.” And finally, one of the typical angry responses: “Why should a 55 year old woman get Social Security checks on her husband’s record? She should be working and supporting herself. And their kids don’t need money! These people really know how to milk the system. It’s just another benefit the liberals have tacked on to Social Security to appease the masses!”

It may surprise many of my readers to learn this “tacking on” was done in 1939 — just three years after the Social Security Act was signed and one year before the first monthly Social Security benefits were paid. In other words, Social Security has been paying benefits to the children of retirees, and to the mothers (and rarely fathers) of those kids, for more than 70 years now.

Many of you wondered why they would get such benefits. The original intent of Social Security was to partially replace the income that taxpayers and their legal dependents lose when they (the taxpayers) stop working — because of retirement, disability, or death. The law clearly spells out who those dependents are. It’s a spouse over age 62 who doesn’t have his or her own Social Security benefit; it’s a widow(er) over age 60; it’s a child under age 18 (or over 18 if disabled); and it’s the mother (and more recently the father) of any minor kids still at home — unless that mother or father is working, in which case the earnings penalty rules (explained many times in this column) would prevent them from getting benefits.

And for those of you who are convinced that this is just another example of the erosion of that good old “pull yourselves up by the bootstraps” American mentality, I think you should relax. These benefits are not very common. After all, there aren’t that many retirees (i.e., folks in their mid to late 60s and older) who have minor children at home.

For biological reasons, there obviously are hardly any women who have young kids at home when they reach Social Security age. It’s a different story with men, of course, especially considering that there are more than a few old goats married (usually for the second time) to a younger woman — and they might have some teeny boppers still at home when he signs up for Social Security.

But the numbers show it really doesn’t happen all that often. There are about 54 million people getting Social Security checks. Out of all those, about 579,000, or about one percent of all benefits, are going to children of retirees.

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  • We certainly enjoy your postings regarding the facts and figures of Social Security. The hysteria ginned up over the in’s and out’s of Social Security always upsets me. When I was sixteen my father suddenly died of a massive heart attack. SSI provided the cushion to help my working mother and I carry on after the shock. We wasted that funding on food, clothing and keeping a roof over our heads. I just wish that those so strident in opposition to Social Security would actually take the time to appreciate how well the program has served America since it humble beginnings. I see no need to demonize something that has clearly improved the lives of nearly all of our citizens.

    • lexi001

      My husband was killed in an industrial accident at the age of 43. My children were 15 and 17 at the time. I was a working woman (and always was). My children received SS benefits until they reached 18. Like Lynda, we wasted that money on frivolities like food, clothing and a roof over our head. I suppose until you can relate you will forever think anyone who receives ANYTHING that you all suppose they didn’t work for we will be considered “welfare receipients”. There is a mean, nasty small-mindedness that appears pervasive in today’s world. The days of your neighbor’s helping you build the barn are long gone. These days it’s “every man for himself”. Real Christian.

  • I know someone who gets SS check of $ 2300 monthly on a late xhusband and a retirement check on a living xhusband. Makes for a pretty good income for someone who never had a full time job herself!

    • progressiveandproud

      If that person really is drawing from the dead spouse, she is doing it illegally. SS checks stop when the survivor remarries.

      Maybe you should make a phone call to the SS office or stop complaining now that you know she is committing fraud and you let it happen.

    • You’re not talking about Ann Romney, are you?

    • William Deutschlander

      Sorry but this sounds very wrong, you can only have one husband at a time, are you a registered republican?

  • And the next thing that will come out of one of these complainers mouths is, I am a Christian. This law was written in 1939 and the purposes were spelled out. At that time we seemed to have a more caring society in this country, now I am not so sure about that. These people who receive these benefits need them to support their families and keep them safe, healthy, and a roof over their heads. If they weren’t able to do that, you’d be complaining that they were a burden on society because of all the crime they committ. Wait until it happens to you, the whole story will change then!!!!

  • joyscarbo

    My brothers were all under the age of 18 when my dad died at the age of 52 in the mid 1970’s. My mother received his social security benefits that helped keep us kids in clothes, food, etc. When we turned we each turned 18 and we chose to go to college. As long as we stayed in school, we’d get a monthly check. It was a big help!!
    That money was part of a benefit that my father paid into. Back when the laws/rules of social security were made, Americans supported them.
    Republicans aren’t going to be happy until they can see every social program gone and poor people out in the streets. They’re a threat to all that is decent and good.

  • As I have said a million times, most people out there do not understand how their healthcare is paid for, what Medicare and Social Security are and only listen to the made-up stories of the opponents of the programs.

  • I did not know this my husband will turn 65 and I am 50 and the children are still minors. I will definately look into this when he fills out his paperwork for SS. 1939 well the republicans can’t try to reappeal that law too.

    • joyscarbo

      You don’t have to, PamelaT, it’s something you’ll get when- God forbid- if your husband passes away while your children are still minors.

      My parents were divorced in the 1960’s. In the 1970’s my father died at age 52. My mom had remarried but she still received social security benefits because we were still our father’s children. When my older brother and I graduated high school- in 1978 and 1980- we both decided to go to college. We each received a monthly social security benefits as long as we stayed in school full-time. Even though my father passed away at an early age, he still paid into social security and his hard work payed off for us.

      I don’t care what people say. I believe we live in a great country because of these social programs that provide for the widow and the child who has lost a parent. Not only that, I’m glad there are social programs for people who are poor, disadvantaged and disabled. I have a severely handicapped adult son. I can’t afford to provide for him financially forever and I’m thankful that he has SSI income and medicaid to help. I believe in paying my taxed to pay for these services and programs. It’s about doing my part to contribute to the greater good. I don’t care if it sound idealistic. You can never be too good to your fellow man.

      I’m appauled and ashame of these right-wing, conservative republicans who are perpetuating a fear and hatred toward others. They use religion to validate their views but they can’t sell that bill of goods to me. Knowing what is basically right and wrong is common sense. Republicans have lost their common sense and too many people are becoming paranoid animals, fighting for every penny and scrap against anyone who they think is trying to take it from them.

  • Social Security has a 2.6 trillion surplus in the trust fund . Use your voting power to vote any politician out of office that wants to take away from your Social Security.

  • billlee1947

    This is one of the reasons that social security is so valuable. It is disability insurance, life insurance (payable to minor children and to wives with minor children) as well as sort of a retirement plan. What a bargain! It has and will continue to serve a great purpose.

  • weesey

    doesn’t surprise meafter all lots of people who never paid into social security get it and people who are not even citizens so where’s the beef

    • metrognome3830

      Where’s your facts.

      • weesey

        sorry I do not have facts but every day hear somrthing about the sybject and that the gov. borrowed the money that people paid in and also hear it said that now they are calling it a hand out after people paid into it me I just thought I was standing up fot tje people as we do not collect social security or ever paid into it

  • My complaint is that the man is expected to pay absolutely nothing while alive, then he dies and his child gets almost $800 per month. Why is society expected to do more that the living father for his child. And this is a real event. My only regret is that I did not find out that he passed sooner. It is just uncomfortable that a parent is worth more dead.