Tired of hearing that I get 'entitlements'


At age 73 and counting, I am tired of many things.

I am tired of watching television shows and reading news stories that tell me I need to have saved at least $1 million in order to retire with any assurance of having an adequate quality of life.

I am tired of hearing from those who retired to their hobbies and their travel itineraries at age 65 that I am somehow a fool for continuing to work through my 70s.

Most of all, however, I am tired of the word “entitlement,” which to many mean that I am collecting money that I do not deserve to collect.

Paul Ryan and his Tea Party compatriots use the word in a way that connotes something immoral, and certainly something slightly wrong with those who get entitlements.

Ryan wants to cut Social Security and Medicare, if not for people of my generation, certainly for my children and grandchildren.

His parents ought to spank him for even thinking about it.

The major entitlements he speaks about cutting are Medicare and Social Security, two safety nets that were put in place as a result of the Great Depression, which started with the stock market crash in 1929 and lasted until the beginning of World War II in the early 1940s.

The Social Security Act was passed in 1935.

I was born in 1939, and began to work and put money into my social security account in 1958, when I began to work part time in a small department store called Bargain Town in Lawrence.

I am still putting money into that account 55 years later. My latest pay stub at the Herald shows that I put about $50 a week into the account even now, when I have been collecting a Social Security check of about $2,000 a month for 7 years. To say that after putting money into the account for more than 50 years, I have no right to get some of it back in my older age gets my dander up, to use an archaic term.

You need 40 quarters of work experience to collect a Social Security check. I have 220 quarters of work experience.

And yet, Ryan and his conservative Republican buddies continue to talk as if I am somehow misappropriating public money every time my check gets deposited directly to my bank account or when Medicare pays my doctor’s bills and for my prescription drugs.

Then, there is Medicare.

Medicare is a national social insurance program, administered by the federal government since 1965, that guarantees access to health insurance for Americans aged 65 and older and younger people with disabilities. As a social insurance program, Medicare spreads the financial risk associated with illness across society to protect everyone, and thus has a somewhat different social role from for-profit private insurers, which manage their risk portfolio by adjusting their pricing according to perceived risk.

Just as I have paid for my Social Security through payroll deductions for the past 55 years, I pay for my Medicare through my public pension earned as a New York City teacher for 33 years.

I understand that many younger Americans believe that I am destroying both education and public spending by getting a pension, but in 1965, when I came out of the Navy and became a teacher, I made a deal with New York City.

That deal included two understandings: I would never get rich being a teacher – my first annual salary in 1965 was $5,900 a year and my last in 2001 was just north of $60,000 a year; and at the end of my career, I would get a pension and health care for the rest of my life. Not too much to ask from an employer.

So far, the city has kept its promise, and if doing so pushes the city toward bankruptcy, I would say that there are a thousand ways to cut the city budget, including doing away with borough presidents and all the other fluff and perks of government.

I would say the same thing to Nassau County districts that have high pension costs.

Cut someplace else. Your retired employees deserve what they bargained for when they signed on.

So, here I am at nearly 74, retired once, still working and collecting a salary, a pension and Social Security.

I am not alone.

Studies show that more than a third of workers -- 37 percent -- say they plan to retire not at age 65, but years later, up from 14 percent of workers that planned to extend their working life in 1995.

More than half the workers ages 58 to 64 say that they plan to work beyond age 64, a snapshot of the new reality.

Jeffrey Jones, the managing editor of the Gallup Poll, which did the study, said, “People who are near retirement age in their 50s and 60s are looking at the cost of living, medical costs, Social Security benefits, retirement plans and food costs have a better sense of what things might be like when they actually retire. They are more aware that early retirement might not be as much of a realistic option for people today as it was 30 or 40 years ago.”

Think of what their plight might be like, considering retirement without the safety nets of Social Security or Medicare.

So, next time you hear a politician talk about entitlement programs and public employee pensions as if they were the culprits for our present fiscal problems, think of what the nation and our senior citizens would be like without them. Take a look at your paycheck and see what you are spending each week for FICA and health costs.

Then you will understand why you are entitled to those entitlements.