In an yesteryear photograph, an elderly women displays something of an enigmatic grin not quite akin to that of the more famous Mona Lisa.
It is much less confident, almost teetering. She is standing in front of a door side mailbox. In her right hand is a envelope, in her left, a large check.
Her name is Ida May Fuller of Ludlow Vermont. Fate accorded to her a few grand distinctions. One, that she was a classmate of a future president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge; and two, that she was the first ever beneficiary of recurring monthly Social Security benefits. The check she holds in her hand is numbered 00-000-01.
But the grandest distinction accorded her was not her association with the president, fine as he was, nor the renown for having been the first beneficiary; but the unsettling fact that her example (through no fault of her own), has not served us as the “canary in the mine” warning that it should.
Ms. Fuller by all accounts was a lovely lady. She retired as a legal secretary at the age of 65 after having paid into the system for a little over 2 years. She contributed a total of $24.75 into the newly formed scheme.
Ida May came from some hardy New England stock apparently, as she would enjoy some 35 years of retirement and pass away at the wonderfully ripe old-age of 100. In that period she would draw a total of $22,888.92 in monthly Social Security Benefits.
The enigmatic smile she displays in the famous photograph evinces an uncertainty about what had come to her. The plain and elegant math in her example should reveal to any one with a calculator, what is not to come to us.
It was on this day in 1935 that the Social Security Act was signed into law by the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Social Security was the cornerstone of his “New Deal” initiatives. The actuarial scientists at the time predicted that the program could be sustained indefinitely.
According to the U.S. Governments own reporting, Social Security and Medicare (under the same umbrella) together account for 42% of Federal program expenditures as of 2016. These expenditures are paid out to over 61.5 million beneficiaries. By their own accounting, the program will be in a perpetual deficit beginning in 2022. That is to say, there will be more “paying out” than “paying in.”
Hopefully, our political leaders will fix the system that so many rely on despite the hard choices which are always inevitable when money and people are involved.
Hopefully they will be careful to remember the old adage that “the law of large numbers is more certain than the sunrise.” Or to put it more plainly, numbers don’t lie, people do.
May it be that the Ida May Fuller’s of the future live as long and with certainty.
May they smile like Mona Lisa.