Saturday, November 14, 2015


What’s the right tense? Did she benefit? Does she benefit currently? Will she benefit in her retirement once she reaches that stage?

Whatever the correct tense, you may get insight from the story of Orleen Colburn. Orleen grew up in Spokane, WA in the early twentieth century. After high school she married the youngster she’d fallen for--Clarence Reeck, also a Spokanite. He completed college in the late 1930s.  They married and moved to Tacoma, Washington, where he had a job offer.

In early married life, Orleen did not work. Instead, she raised the family and cared for the home. Later, in the 1960s, Orleen and Clarence could see nothing but escalating costs of a larger home and college tuition payments looming for their two sons.  Orleen decided mid-life to begin her career of working outside of the home.

Orleen began by returning to school at Bates Vocational-Technical College near downtown Tacoma. When she’d completed the secretarial training course she took a position as school secretary at Sherman Elementary School in Tacoma. There, she imposed her kindly brand of authority on all that transpired in the school office.

Wisely, she began paying into the Social Security deduction from her monthly paycheck. Meantime, her husband, Clarence, had been employed since 1937. He paid into the Social Security system as well.

In the public domain via Wikipedia

I don’t know whether Orleen and Clarence viewed the payments as right, an obligation, an investment in the future, or just as an expense. I never heard either of them complain about the Social Security payroll deduction. I’m sure they realized that their payments supported the older generation, including their two mothers and retired friends in the community.

In the 1970s Clarence retired and began receiving monthly payments from Social Security along with teacher retirement checks.  His retirement and Social Security benefits and her employment income kept them in the family home.

At a certain point Orleen retired from her work and Clarence became too difficult for her to handle at home. She moved him to a wonderful retirement center, Weatherly Inn, which offered the services he required. Medicare supported his medical costs but not the monthly fees owed to Weatherly Inn. Clarence benefitted from Social Security income and Medicare support until he died.

Upon Clarence’s death, Orleen’s Social Security income bumped up. Clarence had worked more years at a higher rate of pay so his benefits were higher than hers. Social Security pays the deceased partner’s payments, if they are larger, to the survivor. Practically, this meant that Orleen could move into an apartment at Tacoma Lutheran Retirement Community, where she lived in peace and happiness with good neighbors. She once asked her son, “Darrell, how did we ever find this place?”

This family story tells a lot about retirement in America. Working people need to accumulate savings as well as pay into Social Security Administration and accumulate retirement accounts through their employer. The national systems are huge and impersonal. But they are by, for, and because of good human beings. The founders of the federal systems realized that citizens can help their neighbors, far and near, by sharing a portion of income during working years and getting a pledge of assistance from the systems to themselves when they retire. 

That sense of community underlying Social Security is a virtue worth retaining as the U.S. moves forward so that your mother will benefit from Social Security and Medicare or continue to do so, whichever applies to her situation.

By the way, David Templeton, a clear-thinking financial analyst I follow, has posted a brief and  compassionate analytical article on Social Security and other retirement income and how they work together. Readers who want to go beyond the story I presented and obtain professionally-written financial guidance should definitely click here and go directly to Templeton’s article.


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