Tom Purcell: Social Insecurity
Tom Purcell: Social Insecurity

Tom Purcell: Social Insecurity

A quarter of a million dollars.

That’s the amount I’ve paid in FICA payroll taxes over the course of my working career, according to my most recent Social Security statement.

FICA, which stands for “Federal Insurance Contributions Act,” “is a payroll tax that helps fund both Social Security and Medicare programs that provide benefits to retirees, the disabled, and children,” the Social Security Administration (SSA) said.

The FICA tax will also partially fund – at least I hope it will – my retirement years.

My statement states that I am eligible to start receiving $ 1,851 a month social security payments when I turn 62 years old.

If I wait until I’m 70, I’ll receive $ 3,370 a month – which is a nice little chunk of dough.

But if I had invested the $ 250,000 FICA that was deducted from my earnings on my own, I would, according to my money manager, have deducted more than $ 1.5 million.

If I deducted conservative 4% of the $ 1.5 million each year, I would immediately collect a $ 5,000 retirement check each month.

This, of course, presupposes that I would have saved and invested all the money that FICA took from my weekly paychecks.

More likely, when I know myself, I would have blown most things on nicer cars and more vacations.

Saving money for your future is difficult even for more disciplined people.

My parents raised six children with one income and had many large bills along the way, so it was not always possible to save money for the future.

They now rely on the social security payments they receive each month to help them cover their basic expenses.

Millions of older Americans are in the same precarious economic boat.

The Social Security Administration reports that about 40% of Americans age 65 and older receive half of their retirement income from Social Security – and about 13% depend on it for 90% or more of their income.

It takes some of the sting out of the 15.3% FICA tax levied on my self-employed person to know that my contributions help others cope in their old age.

But will social security be present to help me in my old age?

Social security now pays out more than it consumes, and the funds contributed by working taxpayers now go directly to social security recipients.

But what about the Social Security “trust fund,” which saved trillions of the excess tax contributions that had been rolled in for years?

The partly good news is that it will only run out of money in 2034 – at which point social security payments will have to be reduced, taxes will have to be raised or more money will have to be borrowed.

The bad news is that its funds were “invested” in government bonds, which the federal government happily spent on daily budget expenditures, such as foreign wars, food stamps, and government debt.

As the great columnist Charles Krauthammer explained in 2011, the Social Security Fund is not filled with money, but with special public IOUs that can only be repaid by raising taxes or borrowing even more money.

In any case, it’s someone’s guessing how much my monthly social security checks will be, so let me give the guys at the Social Security Administration a quote.

How about you give me my 250 large back in return for removing me from your rolls?

What do you say, SSA?


Freelance writer Tom Purcell of the Library is the author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood.” Visit him online at

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