A visit with a Social Security staffer a few weeks ago turned out to be instructive for me as I gathered information to make informed decisions in anticipation of formal retirement in a few months.
The staffer was both very well informed on the ins-and-outs of the nation’s supplemental retirement plan, very thorough in gathering information from my wife and me about our family specifics and very pleasant as we talked.
One of the things that strikes a person making such a visit on the eve of completing a work career is that quite a few years have passed up to this point in life. Oh, I’m always aware of my age. But the Social Security Administration has maintained an annual record of my “Taxed Social Security Earnings,” as SSA calls it, for as far back as I have been earning them.
This is true of every other person who has contributed to Social Security. Anyone can go online to ssa.gov and register to gain access to her own earnings record as well as personalized SS earnings projections that vary depending upon when the person decides to begin receiving them. A person does not have to be of retirement age to gain access to this data. In fact, it makes sense to begin this research years ahead of actually applying for and receiving benefits.
I was not surprised at the actual earnings projection because I had checked out that information online in advance, but I certainly was mildly shocked to be reminded that I am in my 49th consecutive year of Social Security earnings. Forty-nine years!
I had earned spending money as a youngster by mowing lawns for neighbors, and mowing grass and trimming a flower garden for a business near my home. But I began to contribute to Social Security — modestly — in 1968, the same year I was graduated from high school and began college studies.
Seeing that string of years and income has prompted me to take a quick trip down memory lane — at least as far back as my memory will still take me!
For a brief time, I sold hamburgers at a stand-alone drive-in in my hometown then took advantage of a friend’s offer to drive a specially equipped scooter around town each summer and selling snow cones. During my early college years, I was a summer reporter and photographer at my local newspaper office. I also helped cover high school athletics, usually on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Late in my high school career and in my college years, I served a small church as a youth minister and “song leader” and later did the same at my home church. In college, I also held a part-time position in the university library.
After earning a journalism degree, I returned to work full days at my hometown newspaper as reporter, page designer and photographer among other things, a stint that lasted a little better than five years before my wife, our two young sons and I embarked for seminary.
My part-time employment there included 20-plus hours a week as a Baptist newspaper intern for Kentucky’s Western Recorder and a few 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts each week at Parr’s Rest to make sure the home for elderly ladies remained secure at night. The first allowed me to work between classes during the day, and the second was strictly a night job, enabling me to work at both during the same time period and keep up with seminary studies.
Midway during my seminary time, I followed a fellow student and worked full time on a third shift (night) in a plant that produced food items for fast-food restaurants. I was a quality control specialist. When the company phased out its night shift, I became a late afternoon/evening billing clerk for a motor freight company and worked three-quarter time in its Louisville, Ky., terminal.
After seminary, I worked three-plus years at the Southern Baptist Foreign (now International) Mission Board, followed by 11-plus years as editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper and manager of the state convention’s print shop and mailing department.
My employment will conclude later this year when I retire after 20-plus years as editor of Word & Way.
Sometimes it is easy to forget experiences that not only helped us make a living but also offered meaningful life experiences. Hopefully, such experiences also have made a difference to others, too.
I’m a little bit exhausted just thinking about it.
Bill Webb is editor or Word & Way.