What Social Security means to real people
“I am so ready to be a drawer on early Social Security,” said sixty-one year old Jennifer Putman. This month she turned sixty-two and visited her local Social Security office to sign up. Putman is not unusual. More than half of all the program’s beneficiaries take their benefits early, even if it means a drastically reduced benefit for the rest of their lives. For someone Putman’s age, that means a reduction of 25 percent from her full benefit.
That reduction is okay with her because she says she needs it to pay for her health insurance, a huge looming cost for many people her age. Nine years ago she suffered a spinal cord injury, the result of a bathroom fall. She eventually recovered, but was left with permanent neurological deficits that, of course, make her unacceptable to insurance companies that can still decline coverage to those with preexisting conditions.
What about the consequences of having a reduced benefit when she no longer works, I asked? Wouldn’t that affect her standard of living? It’s likely that even with Medicare, her out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance and other care won’t go down. “I think I need the money right now.” She said she was lucky and had a cushion for retirement, a $300,000 inheritance from her parents who both had academic jobs.