Why we need it

We asked Social Security recipients how much they value their monthly checks.

Lawrence Woodward, 68, was the first in his family to own a home. He lives with his wife and son on Chicago's South Side.

I had factory jobs. I worked in machining, and then I became an experimental mechanic at General Motors. I was there for 31 years. We had strikes and different things, fighting for the kind of benefits that they're talking about taking away-health benefits, pensions, and all these sort of things.

I retired when I was 65. I got a pension, full benefits. Social Security is half my income, a little bit over half. Social Security is the only tool that will more or less protect you as you get older.

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It's a relief that I don't have to rely on my son to take care of me. I can take care of myself, and then I also help him. His job, he doesn't get any benefits at all, he doesn't get any health. He pays into Social Security, which is the only thing that he can rely upon. A lot of companies today don't offer you any pension. They might give you a contract for three years, and then that's the end of you. "Well, OK, you done did what you had to do, so now, good-bye."

 

Adeline "Dee" Dybeck", is, in her words, "a mature adult." Widowed and a retired executive secretary, she lives in Berwyn, Illinois, volunteers for the Berwyn Cicero Council on Aging, and does "a little bit of dating."

Social security is just a scant part of my income, less than ten percent, but it's what I start paying the bills with. And I thank God for Social Security, because it has enabled a lot of senior citizens to live higher, to add a little dignity to their lives, and all of a sudden we're the low man on the totem pole. So regardless of how much our Social Security is, it's still the backbone of our finances.

There are a lot of people who make $100,000 a year and they're paying the maximum [into Social Security]. We really can't say, "Hey, they don't need it." They paid it. And because they paid it, it enables the people who are in a $25,000 to $30,000 a year bracket to get their Social Security.

I never dreamed that Social Security wouldn't be there, and I just can't imagine the chaos it would cause nationally if it disappeared. A lot of people worry about their children because, you know, the baby boomers don't know how to save. Now if I were still working and donating, I'd want a guarantee that at least I'd get back what I put in there.

 

Richard McCloughan, , 66, is a retired fire protection engineer. He and his wife, who still works, live in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

I could get along without Social Security, but not because of my own doing. I just happened to be in a fortunate position with some profit sharing and my union pension. I like to think that privatization would be a good idea. But if you took people's deduction and said, "You can keep half and do what you want with it," that wouldn't work unless you policed it so they did something with it -- and that gets to be an invasion of privacy. I'm not sure it would work.

 

Rene David Luna, 40,lives on Chicago's North Side. A former steel mill worker, he heads the Civil Rights Team for Access Living, an advocacy and social service organization for people with disabilities.

In 1977 I had an automobile accident, and I received Social Security Disability Insurance. I was 21. Interestingly enough, disability and Social Security transformed my life. After my accident I went to school - I couldn't go back to work at the mills.

For 10 years, I received Social Security, and it helped me see my way through college, and some graduate work. It was the only income I had and it helped me make the transition to a more productive and independent life. Now I'm a tax payer myself.

Within the disability community, we're on the margins of society. Programs like Social Security help us remain independent and give people some hope. I think we're examples of how it does work.

As a Mexican-American, I'm very upset that legal immigrants won't be eligible for disability or SSI. It seems that there is a backlash against immigrants, children, children with disabilities. Instead of the war on poverty, the war's on poor people. We're reversing the last three decades, when we were a compassionate country that had a sense of justice and fairness and equality.

 

Ida Milam is 71. She raised 12 children and has 19 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. She had colon cancer, but is currently in remission. Her husband died in 1995.

I received a disability pension from the Chicago board of Education -- I was a teacher's aid for 23 years -- and I got a very small pension check from my husband. When he passed, I went to the Social Security office. This woman sat at a computer and clicked me over to being a widow. It's more money than when he was alive.

If I weren't getting Social Security, it would be close to impossible for me to make it, unless I really had some work. My Daddy wasn't able to put money away in the bank. But Social Security said to him, and to me, I'm saving money for my old age, and they give me a certain time that I can draw this money. It's there.

I worry about my Social Security being there for my children and grandchildren. I want it to be there so they can work and put up something for their retirement. The young people, I just tell them to keep on working and we'll keep on praying that we get things settled, that it don't come to that, because they're not going to be the only ones worried -- we are too.

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