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Jewish World Review Feb 8, 2005/ 29 Shevat, 5765

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports

Dear Mr. President: Send me my money


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | It's no accident I've hated Social Security for 40 years.

That's exactly how long the federal government has been skimming money from my paycheck and putting it into its Social Security "lockbox" for my retirement. In 1964, the summer I made $547 as a stock boy in Eat 'n Park's warehouse, I heard Barry Goldwater boldly declare that Social Security should be voluntary.

I dug that message at age 17 and I still do, though at 57 I know I'll never live to see it happen.

In fact, I'd bet my 401(k) no one will ever live to see Social Security become truly voluntary, despite President Bush's brave call to privatize a portion of the government program Goldwater and many others exposed long ago as a socialist pyramid scheme.

The president's rhetoric was great in his State of the Union speech. He promised not to raise payroll taxes, though there's some question whether or not Social Security benefits will be reduced. And he called for young people to be allowed to put part of their payroll taxes into private retirement accounts that they, and not the government, will always own.

Excuse me, Mr. President. But if it really is "our money," why is Social Security still mandatory?

And why will there still be so many rules about what our young folk can do with the money they stash in their personal accounts?

But why should I quibble over such details, Mr. President? As someone over 55, I'm supposed to be comforted by your solemn promise that for us the current Social Security system will never be changed in any way.

No matter what, we AARP-sters will be guaranteed our scheduled monthly benefits for as long as we all shall live. Or, more likely, for as long as Congress makes no changes in the law, which it's done in the past and can do again any time it desires.

But seriously, I really appreciate what you're doing, Mr. President. It's a big baby step in the direction of more freedom and less government. But if you don't mind, as a fellow boomer, I'd like to ask a small favor.

According to the latest statement I've received from the people who have my money at the Social Security Administration, since 1964 I and my employers have "contributed" about $184,201 in payroll taxes into my Social Security and Medicare accounts. In 2003 dollars, that's $282,000.

I never realized I had such a nest egg. Or that my lifetime earnings as a bartender/journalist - adjusted for inflation and not counting tips — are $1.9 million. Thanks for keeping track.

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My career-earnings stat really impressed me — until I divided it by 40, subtracted 20 percent for federal, state and local taxes and remembered what a city firefighter my age makes each year.

But I digress, Mr. President.

If I retire at 66, the government promises I'll get $1,821 a month in Social Security for the rest of my expected life of 16 years. Maybe I'll get lucky and get more than I put in, but I'd rather not risk it.

I don't want to set a precedent that'll screw up the whole retirement system. And it's not that I don't trust you or Congress. But can you please arrange to have all of my Social Security money returned to me? Now? In one big spendable, investable, inheritable lump?

If you do, I swear on Barry Goldwater's grave I won't tell anyone.


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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2005, Bill Steigerwald