We talked a lot about the program, and Cooper admitted she didn’t know very much about it. I asked her what Social Security means. “I really don’t know,” Cooper replied. “I have always associated it with retirement.” Is it a welfare program? “I have no idea,” she said. She didn’t know about Social Security’s disability benefits; nor its survivors’ benefits.
Disability benefits might be of interest to her, especially if she becomes a firefighter, one of the most dangerous occupations around. I told her about them and pointed them out on her annual statement from Social Security. If she were to become disabled and made it through all the hoops to qualify, she would have a benefit of $1376 a month. She told me she was glad we were having this talk. “It makes me look at my paper work,” she said. It made me think that Social Security supporters haven’t done such a hot job of educating younger people about the program.
We chatted a bit about raising the retirement age. People like Cooper will be directly affected by any change that would increase the age to seventy or seventy-two for full retirement benefits. Cooper said she had heard some talk about this at work. “People at work are already retirement age, but they are not retired yet because they need more money,” she told me.
She wasn’t keen on working longer to receive her full benefit. “I would not prefer that,” she said. “I won’t say I won’t be working at that age, but I want that choice. The idea of being in my seventies and still working doesn’t leave me much time to enjoy myself. I’m saying I wouldn’t like to be forced to work until seventy-four or seventy-two. Growing up I always had it in my head I would be in my sixties and retire.”
Click here for more from Trudy Lieberman on Social Security and entitlement reform.