Tag Archive for Social Security

In the Days Before

Sharecropper

Farmers paid $100 per year plus a share of the crop for the privilege of occupying the land.

History and legends are rife with tales of “Old Crones” who educated the people and the leaders of nations in their search for further civilization by telling them the stories of what had gone before in their history. This writer has reached that stage in life where I am ready and willing to accept the title of “Old Crone” and to try to educate our people of “the days before”, in this case specifically, of the days before many of the political and social programs which affect our lives today. Today, my story will be about what life was like for many in the days before some of taken-for-granted social programs of today.

I was born in 1930, during the administration of Herbert Hoover and in the early days of the famous Dust Bowl, to parents who were already elderly by the standards of the day. They already had eight children and had lost one in infancy. My father was a farmer and they reared their family on eighty acres of rented farmland as had their own families before them. I can remember the 1936 elections and my father’s ire at the successes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He hated government and resented any intrusion of said government into what he had considered the business of private persons.

Father paid $100 per year plus a share of the crop for the privilege of occupying the land. The money for the landlord had to be saved by pennies and nickels throughout the year to avoid having to move to another property the following year, so hard cash was very hard to come by. Therefore, all the household support was accomplished by my mother. She would plant huge gardens of vegetables which were canned in glass jars and stored in the storm cellar for use all year. Any patches of native fruits and berries were harvested and processed into the jars for winter consumption.

She kept chickens, laying hens that would provide the eggs which were carefully cleaned and boxed for transport to town to get enough cash to purchase the basic food which was our fare. A large box of eggs and a couple of gallons of cream from our cows would buy a huge box of oatmeal, a can of lard, and a 24-pound sack of flour for the bread which was our staple. On a good week, we could also afford a pound of oleomargarine, the kind that had to have the coloring removed from the packet and stirred into the glob of white goo which substituted for butter. Only occasionally was there a nickel left to buy a bit of sugar to sweeten the fruit or, wonder of wonders, to bake a cake.

When Roosevelt established the Work Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corp, we worried that Father would die of apoplexy! A married older brother with a family went to work for the WPA and another brother joined the CCC. At last, there was a bit of cash in the household. And then, to Father’s horror, the farm commodities began to be distributed, “forcing” the families of farmers to “eat from a tin can.”

In the summer, Father and the boys would contract to bale hay for farmers with larger acreage. Some of that work was for cash while some was for a share of the bales, which could be sold to accumulate cash toward the annual rent. In the hardest years, there would not be enough cash income from the contracting and the sale of other crops to cover the $100 rent. Fortunately, since Father was such a good farmer with so many mouths to feed, the landlord was often lenient and accepted only the share. It was hard, energy-sapping work and people just wore out at a much younger age than they do now.

When Father was only 60 years old, he began to suffer more from his chronic cough and there would be days that he would spend the day in the house, worrying aloud….very loud! On many occasions, due to the hard work and the vagaries of nature, he had suffered from severe pneumonia for extended periods and his cough had worsened each time. There were doctors at that time but even they were limited in what medicines or procedures were available. Even if the doctors had the capabilities and the knowledge of today, the poor had no money and would lie-in at home until nature took its course.

In 1940 another of the older brothers left home. Since there was no work locally, he joined the Navy, so he would not be available for the next haying season but, somehow, we made it through. Then Pearl Harbor happened and our whole world turned upside-down. The oldest brother who was left at home went to the county seat and enlisted in the Army. This left only three brothers at home, not enough to do all the work, much less to compensate for Father’s lessened abilities.

There was no choice but to sell out what we owned on the farm and move into town. Being still a child, I was more concerned with losing all the friends when the animals had to go to new homes, but there were more serious concerns than that. Later in life, in going through Mother’s papers, I came across the accounting from the auction of all my parents’ worldly goods. With the sale of every animal, every piece of farm equipment, and all the appurtenances that went with them, their “lifetime savings” amounted to slightly over $600!

My mother has always been my hero, and she proved it then. She rented a house in our small town and moved in with three almost-adult boys, an elementary-school daughter, and a dying husband and she made us a home! The brother who was in the Army arranged for her to be given $15 a month as a “family allotment.”  This amount covered the rent with nothing left for food. The brother in the Navy had married and his allotment was going to his wife. The two older sons who were at home did find part-time work around town, as helpers in various shops, and contributed their earnings to the family.

You may ask, “Why didn’t she go on welfare or apply for SSI for your father?” The answer is simple. That was in “The Days Before!” When you hear the politicians complain about needing to “reform entitlements,” and you know that their aim is merely to end them, be sure to watch for my next article about what life was like in the days when there were no entitlements or other assistance for the poor.

Cory Gardner promotes selfishness

I recently received a letter from Cory Gardner. In that letter, he assured me that my that my Medicare and Social Security benefits “will not change for you ever.”

If this was intended to reassure me, it did not do the job. What Cory Gardner is asking me and everyone over 55 to do is to be selfish, and not think of the coming generations that include our children, nieces, nephews and grandkids..

Working for the next generation is one of the ideas that made this country what it is. Those who fought in World War II did so to rid the world of a maniac and make the world a safer place. There are many such examples.

Asking us to be selfish does not seem like a good idea. Reducing the benefits of the coming generations benefits no one, except the rich who are not paying their fair share of taxes. In a recession, cash flow needs to be increased. The middle class will not be in a position to pull this country out of the recession until it is allowed to flourish. We need jobs and money to survive. All of us.

Cory Gardner’s actions do nothing to alleviate the problem. They are the actions of a young man who is following the corporate agenda. Either he is unable to resist the siren call of the corporate dollar or he is following that agenda without thought.

Social justice goes under the bus!

Yes, President Obama, you have much to worry about. Much more than you realize.

We are witnessing real political theater in Washington. The so-called debt crisis is actually entitlement destruction. It is a high-stakes chess game in which any miscalculation could have disastrous economic consequences. Even if the administration doesn’t cave in and they don’t raise the debt ceiling, you can bet the bondholders will get paid; that aspect of government payments will be deemed essential.

Unfortunately, they are going to throw the wrong people under the bus, but that is what happens when you have the money and control the dialogue. Much of the public believes the deficit is the problem; they have been conditioned to believe that treating the symptoms and not the disease will solve the problem.

The dilemma is a win-win situation for the wealthy; don’t raise the debt ceiling and the government must prioritize spending or raise the debt ceiling and sacrifice entitlement spending. The only way the U.S. can lose its credit rating is if it defaults on its public debt (bonds) and that isn’t going to happen. The real answer is monetary reform, which could eliminate the national debt.

Instead of implementing solutions to the financial problems surrounding entitlements that would guarantee they are there for future generations, they have decided to throw us (elderly) under the bus by using the guise of “austerity.” The real villains in this tragic drama are the power brokers, and they always seem to come out ahead.

Apparently there are two ways to solve a “debt crisis”: Force the administration to accept major entitlement spending cuts or force the government to prioritize spending, which means entitlement cuts! With either of these solutions, social justice goes under the bus!

The “social” in Social Security

Image courtesy of SXC.hu

The GOP's newest victims - via Social Security cuts.

My mother was 82 when she passed away in 1987. She lived through World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. When she was born, women weren’t allowed to vote. By the time she became an adult, they were. She was a feminist before anyone had thought of the word. Life’s lessons made her one. She watched the nation grow and evolve for almost a century, a century in which changes – both physical and cultural – would have been unimaginable to previous generations.

She was 30 years old when the Social Security Act was passed. Her taxes paid for those who initially qualified, as mine did for her and my offspring do for me. It’s a pact and a promise between and amongst generations.

She recognized that these were benefits that she worked for, not government handouts. Throughout her retired years she always referred to the third of the month, the day Social Security checks arrive, as “payday.” Whether defined as insurance or described as a retirement benefit, Social Security was something that she had earned – one way or another.

Before Social Security, poverty amongst the elderly was rampant. This was so even at a time when families were larger and when siblings could help – if not with dollars, with care – and could take mom or dad into their homes. Over time families became smaller and both men and women found it necessary to work to provide either a working class or a middle-class lifestyle.

Today a new phenomenon has developed. It’s called the “sandwich generation.” It refers to those who are squeezed between their kids and their parents. Both need their help.

With all the hand wringing about the need to cut Social Security benefits, I ask those who will find themselves “sandwiched” in the future, “Do you expect to be able to financially support your parents if Social Security benefits are not enough?” Consider that when you and your kids are sucked into the meme of the day, “Social Security won’t be there when you retire,” – and be sure it is. And know that it won’t be if it’s “privatized.”