From the Columbia Journalism Review
What Social Security means to real people
Deficit commission co-chair Alan Simpson is fond of saying that the changes he has in mind for Social Security won’t hurt people like Ronald Eaker “one whiff.” Ronald Eaker, who turns sixty-three this month, won’t be bothered by, say, lifting the retirement age for full benefits to seventy. But Eaker’s health and financial circumstances are not unlike those of millions of others in the next decade or two who will be affected by an increase in the retirement age.
The dilemma Eaker currently faces is whether to take a reduced Social Security benefit now or wait until he is sixty-six to collect the full amount, $1404 per month.
“A person who has had three heart attacks and a defibrillator in his chest is thinking how many days I have left, not years,” Eaker says. “If the age was seventy, I would have to keep working. It’s basically saying you work until you die.” He said his father was a crane operator in a factory who was on Social Security disability for ten years before he died at age sixty-nine; his mother, who is still living, he said, barely made it to sixty-five. “She worked in a munitions factory and would have never made it to seventy on the job.”
For him, waiting until age sixty-six is a long stretch, but at the moment he says he is going to do it. “I keep telling myself, I’m okay right now. I’m in a job I like. But it depends on me not getting sick or my wife’s job (at an assisted living facility) not going away or she gets fired,” he told me. It also provides health insurance.