SIDNEY — It’s been 76 years since a Vermont woman received the first monthly Social Security retirement check. It totaled $22.54.
Today, millions of older and disabled Americans depend on that monthly stipend from the government as their sole source of income. Recently, the Sidney Daily News talked with four of them.
Dorothy and Don Reid, of Sidney, and Ada Moore and Rethel Pack, both of DeGraff, all said they would have nothing were it not for Social Security benefits.
Don, 90, signed up for retirement benefits when he was 63, but canceled them when he decided to go back to work to help a niece. He retired again at 80. Dorothy, 89, retired in 1988 from Copeland Corp.
By contrast, Pack, 69, was injured on the job in 1986. A truck driver, he hurt his back while unloading cargo and required two back surgeries. He collected workers’ compensation benefits for 11 years, and it took 11 years and the help of an attorney to get Social Security disability payments.
Moore, 69, began to collect Social Security when she was 62, but would like to go back to work part time to supplement the small amount she receives.
Don did not pay taxes into the Social Security system during his first job, which he insists was more of a hobby. While he was in high school, he helped to roll and line the city’s tennis courts.
“I went to the bank and got paid in silver dollars,” he said. After graduation from Piqua Central High School, he joined the Navy and served during World War II. When he returned from the service, “I changed jobs quite a bit,” he said. “You went where you thought you could make more money. It’s like now: They promise you the world with a fence around it. Then you get there and those words go out the window.”
He worked for Shelby Manufacturing but jumped to Sidney Elevator for a 20-cent-per-hour raise. Eventually, he became manager of parts and service at A.J. Langhorst Inc. Following his retirement, he was, in his words, a go-fer at Meyers Chevrolet and then he drove a truck for Spearman Brothers Dump Truck.
His final retirement came at age 80.
“I still tinker,” he said. “I have a shop in the garage. I do things for friends. I keep their lawn mowers running for them.”
Dorothy graduated from Sidney High School in 1944.
“I was working when I graduated, at Morris’s 5 and 10-cent store,” she said. Homer English, a photographer, recruited her to a position at English Studios in the Ohio Building.
“I stayed there till after I had our first child, Jim, in 1948,” she added. She worked part time at the studio after that, sharing duties with another woman. Another child, Doug, arrived four years later. When the kids were old enough for school, Dorothy took a part-time job at a credit bureau owned by Dick Hemm and later, a part-time job as an office nurse for Dr. Lon Cooper.
“She was home when the boys would get off the school bus,” Don said.
In 1968, Dorothy hired on at Copeland Corp. as secretary to the application engineering department.
Their Social Security income is very important to them.
“If we don’t get it, we don’t eat,” Don said. Because there was no cost-of-living increase in benefit payments for 2016 and the cost of their supplemental health insurance premiums increased, the Reids are having to deal with a $30-per-month decrease in their income this year. They are very cautious about spending.
“The last three months have hit us pretty hard. We had to buy a new stove and pay real estate taxes,” Don said. Careful budgeting from month to month meant they could afford it.
Moore and Pack barely get by on what they receive from Social Security.
“We live together because he can’t live on what he gets and I can’t live on what I get,” Moore said.
They were residing in Kentucky when Pack first applied for benefits. His Social Security was not as much as his workers’ compensation had been. Social Security retirement benefits are based on overall lifetime earnings, according to Theresa Busher, Social Security public affairs specialist in the Dayton office.
“You get a percentage of your average (monthly) earnings,” she said. The amount is figured by first averaging a retiree’s highest-paid 35 years of work.
“If someone works only 30 years, there are five years of zeros in there,” Busher said, but wages are indexed — inflated — from early years to reflect today’s dollar values.
Pack resents the formula.
“It’s not my fault I wasn’t working for the last 11 years (before I got Social Security),” Pack said. Since he began to collect Social Security 19 years ago, cost-of-living increases have added $435 to his initial award of $366.
“I don’t know anyone who can live on $801 a month,” he said.
Moore gets less per month than he does, and health insurance premiums are deducted from her payments.
She has worked in restaurants for most of her life; although, she delivered mail in Kentucky for a while and served as an assistant manager on the third shift at a machine shop in Rosewood.
“I was laid off from the machine shop. My job went to China,” she said. She retired at 62 from the Village Pantry in DeGraff after working there four and a half years.
Now, Moore and Pack pinch pennies to cover rent and grocery bills and have relied on credit cards, which are almost at their limit, to fill in the gaps.
“I haven’t had any new clothes in 19 years. We buy our clothes at yard sales and the Goodwill,” Pack said. He would like to work out at a gym, but the closest one is in Bellefontaine and he can’t afford the gas to go there. The two are considering a move back to Kentucky, where they think it costs less to live.
The Reids have scaled back, too. They no longer travel to Florida to see relatives. They treat themselves to a meal at the American Legion when hamburgers and hot dogs are on sale for $1. Occasionally, they’ll enjoy a meal at a local restaurant.
Busher noted that Social Security is meant to be a foundation for retirement, “to give you a solid planning base.” But for millions of Americans, it is the only income they have. People in many jobs don’t make enough to support families and save, too.
The Reids said it wasn’t possible to save very much when they were working because it took all they had to raise their family.
“But we had a good life,” Dorothy said.
Busher encourages people to visit www.ssa.gov for information about benefits.
“We’ve got calculators online, which are cool, ” she said. “There is also an online estimator, where you can compare benefits at three ages.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824. Follow her on Twitter @PASpeelmanSDN.