Karen Filler has been aware of Social Security most of her life. To begin, she carries two specific memories.
“My father died when he was in his 40s,” she said. “My youngest brother was still in college, and my mother had always worked. But when someone dies in their 40s they haven’t planned to die. My mother had just what she earned, which was not a lot. My mother got a Social Security benefit and my brother could stay in school until he finished college.
“The other thing I remember is my grandmother, in the 1950s and early ‘60s. She was from Europe—my grandparents came when Franklin Roosevelt was president, and they felt some of the effects of the Depression.
“When she started to received Social Security, she was living with my family in Providence, R.I. My father used to come home for lunch. The check came right after the first of the month, and she would wait for it. She was blind, but she knew what the brown paper of the envelope felt like. She would wait for my father to come, then she would make the X, and he would sign her name on the back, and he would go to the bank to cash it right away. She believed that if she didn’t cash it right then, then it wouldn’t be any good. I think it was only $50 or $60, but that gave her a real feeling of independence.”
Now, Karen said, it is her turn to be grateful for her own Social Security. After years of working for an insurance company in Massachusetts, she decided to take its retirement package that included a payment that she could invest and beginning to receive Social Security when she had turned 62. Her husband, Matt, also receives Social Security, as well as a pension.
“We have four kids who all went to really good schools,” she said. “They came out debt-free and we came out with a lot of debt. Social Security has made a big difference. It blows my mind that some people only have that to live on, but we would not have the lifestyle we have without Social Security.”
While she was working, had she reflected on Social Security’s likely impact on her post-retirement life?
“I guess I truly didn’t think about it. I think I just paid the FICA tax,” she said, adding, ”I think it would be a great way to fix the Social Security budget—if they didn’t put the cap on FICA. I never could understand why people each year would stop paying at a certain point, depending on what their salary was. It could be uncapped. I think we have an obligation to help people who are less fortunate. If you’re making $400,000 a year you can afford to pay more FICA tax.”