From the Columbia Journalism Review
What Social Security means to real people
Twenty-nine-year old Laurie Cooper is a self-reliant, hard-working woman who wants to be a firefighter, and she’s trying to become one. Hoping to boost her chances, she is studying at a junior college for an EMT certificate, and works as a volunteer fire fighter in Bondville, a town of about 500. “I like being that person who can take care of people in their traumatic state,” she said. “There are so many reasons I want to be a fire fighter. It’s very emotional.”
Even though she’s on call 24/7, Cooper has a day job in Champaign. She’s a building manager at a church, and makes about $37,000 a year. The church provides health insurance and a pension plan, to which she contributes nine percent of her salary. She now has about $21,000 in the account. If she continues to have employment that offers a pension plan, like municipal fire departments, she’ll be better off than most workers her age. Employer-provided pensions are becoming rarer, and Cooper told me she knows she has to save. “I have saved a lot of money by being frugal,” she explained.
Still, Social Security will be crucial to her future financial security. At sixty-seven, her normal retirement age, the Social Security Administration estimates that her benefit will be about $1500 a month. Who knows whether that will be adequate to live on in forty years? But it will be a floor that Social Security guarantees to everyone.