Dear Mr. Berko:

I have been a widower for four years and helped raise six children, each of whom is mostly self-sufficient. My wife and I were very active in raising our children. I began taking Social Security at 70. I really don’t need this entitlement. Starting in 1968, I had a good job for 40 years. We lived within our means. We saved money. My wife worked part time as a legal secretary for 30 years. We did well with investments.

The checks have come in handy for paying for a new air conditioner, a large-screen TV, airfare and gifts for my children and grandchildren. And I hope to help some of them with their college costs. I could spend less and bragged about this (shouldn’t have) to my pastor. Now he’s nicely suggesting that I give up this entitlement so the government can give it to people who need it. And I’m almost embarrassed that I get $2,200 every month. I’m aware that Congress wants to reduce this entitlement and that there will be a means test to qualify. I would like to hear your thoughts.

S.G., Oklahoma City




Dear S.G.:

Stop referring to Social Security as an “entitlement.” Social Security is not an entitlement. Every time you or your spouse earned a paycheck, the employer sent Social Security 6.2 percent of it to an account under your or her name. And each time you or your spouse earned a paycheck, the employer also sent Social Security a matching amount to your account. That’s 12.4 percent per paycheck, and you and your spouse never received a shilling of it. You earned it! You paid for it! It’s your money! It’s not an entitlement!

The word “entitlements” is government-speak for the federal programs from which lots of folks receive support that they don’t pay for. However, Congress is ill-advised to call Social Security an entitlement. Calling Social Security an entitlement is purposefully disparaging and places it on the same common field as food stamps, job training, free cellphones, etc. And as Congress continues to call Social Security an entitlement, folks like you, who have 40 years of contributions, will begin to believe it’s an entitlement, making it easier for Congress to take it from you.

Assume your average annual income between 1968 and 2008 was $35,000 a year. In those 40 years, you and your employer probably contributed $5,250 annually to your Social Security account. That’s $210,000. If these contributions were compounded at 4 percent annually for the 40 years, your Social Security account would be worth about $625,000. Do you consider this an entitlement? I don’t! It belongs to you! Some of it’s even taxed. Entitlements are not taxed. Take your checks as long as the Social Security Administration sends them to you.

If you kick the bucket at age 83, then what hasn’t been paid to you accrues to Social Security. Be mindful that the average life expectancy in the United States is 79 years, so most retirees collect benefits for less than 15 years. And there’s a lot left over. During the past 50 years, more than 100 million workers have been putting billions every year into the system. I’ve tried to find out how much all employees and employers have contributed to the Social Security trust fund since 1963. The Congressional Budget Office can’t tell me. The Social Security Administration either won’t or can’t tell me. But an educated guess places the number somewhere between $53 trillion and $58 trillion. And if a half-trillion a year has been paid out each year during the past 50 years (extremely high), then $18 trillion to $23 trillion is missing. Ask your congressional representative where the money is, because $18 trillion or $23 trillion is a lot of money.

Meanwhile, I don’t care for religious types who offer unsolicited financial advice. Tell the pastor you’ll give up your earned Social Security income if he pledges not to accept private checks to the Pastor’s Discretionary Fund and stops hiding income under Internal Revenue Service regulations that favor members of the cloth.