Social Security And The Self-Employed

Q: In a recent column, you wrote about mandatory Social Security coverage for almost everyone since 1935. But my parents were both optometrists. And I remember my dad was proud of the fact that he wasn’t forced into Social Security from the beginning. I believe he was finally required to “join” Social Security sometime in the 1960s. And believe me, he wasn’t happy about that! Can you discuss this sometime in the future?

A: In the column in question, I explained why certain groups of employees, such as some state and local government workers, are not covered by Social Security. But I didn’t discuss the issue of self-employed people. Thanks for bringing that oversight to my attention.

When the Social Security law passed in 1935, it was set up for the nation’s workers (people who worked for wages) because almost none of them had any kind of pension plan at work. The original law did not include self-employed people. They were excluded primarily for administrative reasons: Congress felt that obtaining reports of earnings (the foundation of the Social Security record-keeping system) and collecting “payroll” taxes from people without an employer would be too difficult.

But by 1954, Social Security planners had figured out how to deal with those issues, so Congress mandated Social Security coverage for all self-employed people except lawyers and medical professionals. The lobbies representing these groups fought to stay out of the system because, according to historical documents, their members felt it would lower their standing with their clients to be included in a program they considered one step above welfare.

In 1956, that argument no longer carried water, and Congress mandated Social Security coverage for all self-employed people, including lawyers. But doctors apparently still had some political clout and were excluded. I’ve seen letters written at the time from the American Medical Association to various members of Congress decrying their “socialist agenda” for trying to force Social Security on doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals. As you said, your dad was proud of the fact that he didn’t have to be in Social Security. I’m sure he was typical of the conservative business people who made up those professions.

But the ’60s were not a good time to be a conservative in this country. And in 1965, a liberal Congress finally made doctors the last major self-employed group to be part of Social Security. I’ll bet your parents were dragged kicking and screaming into the program!

Q: I’ve filed for Social Security disability benefits five times. I’ve had five separate hearings — three of them before the same judge — and my claims still get denied, even though my condition continues to worsen. Do you have any advice for me?

A: My advice would be to accept the inevitable, give up filing for disability benefits, and channel those energies into looking for a job.

If you had filed for Social Security disability benefits once and been turned down, I would have told you to file an appeal, or perhaps start a whole new claim. If you had been turned down twice, I would have suggested you seek help from a lawyer who specializes in Social Security disability cases. (You’ll find them listed in the Yellow Pages of any phone directory or by simply doing a Google search.)

But if you’ve filed five separate claims for Social Security disability benefits; been turned down five times; taken each of those claims all the way through the appeals process to hearings before a judge; and had all five appeals rejected, then I think it’s about time you realize your impairment obviously does not meet the legal definition of a disability for Social Security purposes.

Q: I have a big problem with my official name in Social Security records. I was born with one name, but very quickly started using a nickname as my first name, and it is that nickname that appeared on my original Social Security card. Then, I married and changed name on my card to my married name, using my real first name. Then, my first husband died, and I started using my maiden name with the nickname again, but I never changed my name on Social Security records. (I have never worked since my first husband died.)

Now I’ve remarried and am back to using my real first name with my new husband’s last name. I am so worried that all of this name confusion will mess up my ability to get Social Security benefits when I turn 62 next year. What can I do?

A: You can relax. Name issues similar to yours are very common. Your situation is unique to you, of course, but the Social Security Administration deals with problems like yours every day. So it’s no big deal. You probably don’t have to do anything until you actually file for Social Security — and then, all you have to do is explain to them what you told me in your email.

But if you’re going to lose sleep over this, you can go down to your Social Security office at your leisure, bring along some proof of your current name, and fill out a simple one-page form that will change your name in official Social Security records.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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