Two Sides of the Safety Net – Exclusion and Inclusion

by Community Change | August 14, 2011 11:37 am

Sylvia Lundberg, a Social Security recipient, reflects on her experiences with the program. Today is the 76th anniversary of Social Security. 

When I was a young teenager, my family was left without any source of income after my father, who was a farmer, died of a massive heart attack.  We were not eligible for Social Security because in the 50’s farmers were excluded from the program. My mother was a high school graduate but had no office skills. After several unsuccessful attempts at retail sales, she had to farm us kids out to various family members. Though we had a loving and generous extended family, our immediate family was destroyed. We never lived together again.

This was a devastating blow for my mother, my brother, and me. Imagine that scenario for your family. Imagine not having the safety net of Social Security.

On her own, my mother was able to get training in the health care field. She retired after a long and productive career and was eligible for Social Security and Medicare. Though my brother and I supplemented her monthly check, Social Security was a significant part of her income.

Since retirement, both my husband and I have received the benefits of Social Security and Medicare. As a worker of 49 years, I contributed my fair share from my income to both programs. Of course, unlike my mother’s generation, we were encouraged to put additional money aside in IRA’s and 401K’s. I took advantage of these savings programs as soon as they were announced in the mid 70’s.  And though I was able to put a tidy sum into savings, Social Security is still a stable and significant part of my retirement income. I am grateful for the security it has provided me.

When I was asked to write about what Social Security meant to me, I could only think about what not having Social Security meant in my life. Then, as I started to write about my family’s hardship, I realized that my family has experienced both sides of the safety net. Having Social Security allowed my mother to live her later years in dignity and security. Not having that safety net would have subjected her to the same nightmare she experienced as a young mother. My husband and I are enjoying a full and enriched life as the parents of three successful and productive citizens and the grandparents of six vibrant, lovely children. Because I know what Social Security has done for me, and where it failed me, I believe our country must keep the promise: protect Social Security for all its citizens and allow our people to live their later years in dignity and security.

Thank you,
Sylvia Lundberg

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