Spring 2005


Generations found; generations lost?
‘Social Security was what they depended on’

When my daughter Sarah was born, I realized there were five generations of women in our family. A reporter came by to do a story and picture for our town paper. Through that interview we learned a lot about ourselves.

My great-grandma Powers had handwashed and line-dried her family’s clothing and peeled potatoes efficiently with a paring knife. I had a house filled with modern appliances, and most of the potato would be down the drain if I used a knife.
But we all had given birth to children at age 19 or 20, all worked while raising our children, and family values were important to us.

When I was a child, my great-grandfather Powers died from emphysema caused by a lifetime of working in the coalmines before they were unionized. Greatgrandma, at the time of our five-generation picture, had Alzheimer’s and depended on Social Security for her survival.

Our picture has changed now. My great-grandmother Powers passed away and my daughter had a baby, Paige. We all moved up one generation. I am now the grandmother.
Being in the middle of the generations, I am struck by the similarities of the women of my family and by our differences.

My grandmother, now 84, has Alzheimer’s, like her mother. Her husband, who she was married to for 61 years, passed away two years ago. She has a small pension, but mostly depends on Social Security. My mother, whose husband passed away a few years ago, takes care of her single-handedly and also lives on Social Security. It is difficult for both of them, as it was for my great-grandmother, but they make do and are grateful for the money that comes in every month.

But I look to the younger side of the family picture, at my daughter Sarah and granddaughter Paige. Will they know the same security in their old age? When I read about the proposed stock market investing of their future Social Security benefits, it reminded me of a story I read to Sarah when she was small — Little Red Riding Hood. It scared her then, though I assured her she was safe. I can no longer make that claim now. Our children and grandchildren’s futures are being threatened by a new wolf at the door.

Social Security will be solvent until 2042, when I will be 80 years old. With a few minor changes, it can continue to provide for our future generations. Yet the plan is to take a large chunk out of the fund and invest it in the stock market. This will create a deficit that my daughter Sarah and granddaughter Paige, as well as yours, will be paying off for many years to come.

Some people will get rich from this scheme, that’s true, but it’s not the young women in my family or yours. It’s the Wall Street brokerage firms that will truly benefit. Not everyone’s private accounts will flourish. There will be winners and losers as there always are. Instead of leaving a stable financial future to our children, one that has already been successful for generations, we make them potential victims of investments schemes and unscrupulous business ventures.

And I worry what will happen to Paige if tragedy struck one of her parents? Social Security’s survivor and disability benefits are threatened by the new privatization scheme. The ground beneath our children’s feet is becoming unstable.
My great-grandmother Powers was a hard-working woman who would say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I know what she would think of the current proposal.

As I look at my family picture, I see the generations before me who worked hard to provide for their children. Social Security was what they depended on to carry them through their older years. We need to provide this same legacy for our children.
If we don’t, our family pictures will never be the same.

Kelly Santiman
Editor, Region 8 Review

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