Well, I got screwed royally by Social Security. Five ways from Sunday!
In the first place, on Friday I checked and learned it really is true that when you’re taking so-called “early” Social Security, if you go even a dollar over the $14,160 allowance for earned income, they take away an entire month’s check. Not only that, but because they pay your Medicare Part B out of the monthly check, you get to come up with $111 out of pocket to cover that, too!
You get the money back the following January. But until then, you just go hungry.
It gets better. If your greed exceeds the amount of one month’s gross check—even by a dollar—they take away another whole month’s benefit.
In other words, over the entire 12 months of 2010, if I earn $1,276 more than $14,160, I lose $2,550—two entire months’ of income—and I have to come up with $222 out of savings to pay for Medicare.
If I earn $2,551 too much, then they take three months’ of payments away, and I have to come up with $333 for Medicare. And so on to infinity.
In other words, if you have the temerity to earn more than a poverty income, they break your back financially.
Because the college (unexpectedly) paid me a stipend to develop the online course equivalent to the amount of teaching a three-credit course, I’m already over the $14,160 limit: three and three at Maricopa County pays you $14,400. I figured I would report this near the end of the year—legitimately, I won’t truly know that much is coming in until we see whether the online course makes, and it doesn’t start until late October. That stipend paradoxically means next fall will be extremely tight, but I’d figured I could make it, probably, because I’d get the post-tax-gouge money back in January.
But because they starve your bank account more and more for each chunk of earnings that equates to a month’s Social Security check, it means I could not apply for the excellent opportunity that recently came up: One of the other colleges was looking for someone to teach American literature and, better yet because it only meets once a week, mythology. I really want to get my foot in the door to teach something other than composition. These courses require a LOT less work, because you’re not having to grade student writing every time you turn around, nor are you required to grade on the basis of their writing skills—all you really have to do is look to see if they more or less did the assignment.
If I had landed even one of those two sections, the extra pay plus the $500 “salary” I have to draw from the S-corp would have caused Social Security to withhold not one, not two, but three checks and gouge me $333 for Medicare. I would net less than the amount I would earn by taking on extra work to help make ends meet.
So, this is intensely frustrating.
It feels like a kind of punishment for doing what Americans are supposed to do: be entrepreneurial. Dare to earn something more than bare poverty wages, dare to get off your duff and do some productive work, and we’ll wallop you upside the head.
I can’t even begin to live on the piddling net from a $14,160 gross. The Social Security income is what’s making it possible for me to survive at all in underemployment. But the $15,000 from Social Security is no more a living wage than is the dinky amount they limit you to earning.
Six sections a year is half-time work. It’s so part-time you don’t even get benefits. To add to the annoyance, an adjunct’s position is extremely ambiguous. My pay statements explicitly say the pay is for contract work. But the district will not pay my S-corporation, which they should do if indeed I’m a contractor and which would resolve the whole issue with Social Security. And my tax lawyer insists I’m not a contractor for the district, I’m an employee.
What’s especially annoying about this is that I had no intention of starting Social Security at age 64. After the crash of the Bush economy, I figured to work until I was 70, since that’s how long it would have taken for my investments to recover their former glory, with regular employer-matched contributions to my 403(b). The only reason I’m taking it now is that I was forced to do so by the destruction of the U.S. and the world economy, something that came about directly from federal government policy and the mismanagement of government policy by elected representatives. It’s not my fault I’m out of work, and it’s not my fault there are no jobs for aged female Ph.D.’s. Or, in Arizona, for anyone else.
So. The hard times—and they have been hard—are will not end when this penurious summer ends. In the fall, I’m going to be $1,275 short of the amount I need to get by. This afternoon I’ll return the curtains I bought to help black out the bedroom so I can sleep past the first crack of dawn; that’ll put a few bucks back in my account. The iMac is showing signs of hard drive failure; the repair job will far exceed anything I can get back from returning the curtains.
Sure do wish I could’ve made something on that yard sale yesterday…
And there’ll be no new dryer, even from Craig’s List, when the junior-college pay starts to roll in next month. Thank goodness most of my stuff can be line-dried. The comforter, when it needs to be washed, will just have to be done at M’hijto’s house.
Yes, I do have emergency savings to fall back on for a month—and yes, I’ll have to use those to get by this fall. But the point is, I shouldn’t have to use emergency savings when I could earn enough, combined with Social Security, to live on. The point is, when you’re earning this little, there’s nothing left to put back into savings. So when I use up that emergency fund, it’s just gone. It won’t be there when a real emergency happens. And with my arm out the way it is, it will only take one more fall, one car accident, one minor injury to make it impossible for me to work…and then I’ll really need that fund.
And yes, I have retirement savings. But I’m not retired. I’m not retired—no, indeed; I’m working 16 and 18 hours a day, seven days a week—thanks to the economic collapse. That money has to sit there without being drawn down until the market recovers enough to rebuild at least some of the outrageous losses that occurred during the crash and that continue to occur because the continuing slide in real estate values here in Arizona continues to sap equity from investments in two very modest houses.
Meanwhile, Congress fiddles as Rome burns…