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Monday, August 8, 2005

Happy 70th Birthday to the Social Security program, and many happy returns!

Wilhelmina Leigh, Senior Research Associate, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

As I wish happy birthday to the Social Security program, I think of my maternal grandmother who died in 1993 at the age of 101. Grannie received an annual letter from the Social Security Administration to verify her continued eligibility for monthly checks. My mother and I chuckled as we proudly put the forms into the return mail on her behalf; Grannie puts the lie to the proposition that African Americans don't benefit from Social Security because of their shorter life spans.

My maternal grandmother was widowed in 1936, the year after Social Security's birth. After the death of her husband, grannie did what she had to do to support her three children: domestic work and taking in both laundry and borders. Although her hard work was never acknowledged by coverage under the Social Security program, her late husband's work was, and she was able to receive a modest benefit check based on his year of covered employment.

We are all grateful for the monthly Social Security check grannie received because it was one of the reasons she was able to live independently until she was 90 years of age. Indeed some African Americans do not benefit from the program because of their shorter life spans: I never knew my maternal grandfather who died at age 47. However, my maternal grandmother's life gives true meaning to the adage "a life well lived is the best revenge," and the Social Security program contributed in a meaningful way to the quality of her well—lived life.

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