January 03, 2004


Wasn't there some kind of "welfare reform" deal a few years ago? San Francisco seems to have successfully avoided it:

For years, there have been rumors among the homeless downtown that a drifter in North Beach was sleeping in the gutter while he had all the money he needed in the bank.

It's true. That drifter is 68-year-old Lou Dinarde.

Dinarde is homeless, he often sleeps in the gutter or on the sidewalk, and he has plenty of cash -- a trust fund that at one point was worth nearly $700,000. He draws $2,500 a month from the fund plus $500 a month in Social Security.


Posted by Tim Blair at January 3, 2004 04:09 PM

Seriously, I want to know what exactly what sort of hardluck story would have to occur for an average American to go homeless. Mental sickness and drug addictions don't count, and neither does a state of homelessness that is relatively brief (sleeping on your cousin's count especially doesn't count).

Posted by: Matt from Vegas at January 3, 2004 at 04:33 PM

San Francisco voters approved the "Care not Cash" referendum a couple of years ago, but it was blocked by the courts. The guy who lead the initiative, Gavin Newsom, was just elected mayor, so perhaps it will be implemented some day.

Posted by: Stefan Sharkansky at January 3, 2004 at 04:38 PM

sleeping on your cousin's count especially doesn't count

Is that legal in America?

Posted by: Andjam at January 3, 2004 at 04:45 PM

Tim -

Everyone in the US who lives long enough receives Social Security. Even Bill Gates will start pulling a SS check some day.

Every once in a while someone suggests 'means testing' to deny the uber-rich their checks upon reaching retirement age - that person is then chucked into a plastic shredder as a lesson to the others.

Posted by: MattJ at January 3, 2004 at 04:47 PM

Social Security payments in Australia are non-contributory. They are all taxpayer funded, based on "need", and thus means tested.

Posted by: Peggy Sue at January 3, 2004 at 05:20 PM

Hell, yes. You pay a % of your total pay into the Social Security system for all your working years in this country- and every so often, some schmuck comes along and says you can't have it because you've got too much money.

I'll grab one leg, you take the other, heave-ho...

I wouldn't give a damn if I could opt out, or decide how the money I pay in was invested (anything but low-yield US gov't bonds, please!), or had the slightest influence over it, but if I'm going to be compelled to pay in, by god I'm going to collect.

Posted by: rosignol at January 3, 2004 at 05:24 PM

Hell, here in Alabama, you can still MARRY your cousin.

"If your family tree does not fork, you might be a redneck." - Jeff Foxworthy

Posted by: Tatterdemalian at January 3, 2004 at 08:08 PM

Marry your cousin?

If I have read Saturday's Age right,
in Tasmania you can now marry you sister or your brother.

Posted by: Peggy Sue at January 3, 2004 at 08:37 PM

In the US Social Security is not welfare. You and your employer contributes equal amounts during your working life. If you are self-employeed you contribute the full amount yourself.
The amount of benefits you receive is calculated based on your life-time contribution.
Under the current system, most people get much more than they put in. However, the Social Security system is a contributory retirement plan, not welfare for poor people.

Posted by: RobE at January 3, 2004 at 09:15 PM

The name "Social Security" sounds like a welfare program to non-Americans, but it is actually a form of old age pension that begins at age 65. The $500 amount is probably an approximation. The exact amount will have been calculated based on premiums paid by Dinarde and his employers during his stint as a carpenter.

Welfare, in the sense of dole payments to the able-bodied unemployed, truly has been reformed in most states. The modern wave of reform began in the late 1980s when Michigan and Ohio simply cut off all monthly welfare payments to able-bodied men. Many states followed in tightening up payments to employable single people, but that left the larger group of "single mothers" receiving federally-mandated AFDC payments (Aid for Families with Dependent Children, a program instituted in the 1930s for widows). It was this compulsory federal mandate program that was ended in 1996 when Clinton signed the bill sent to him by the Republican Congress in the runup to the 1996 presidential election. That freed the states to implement their own programs to get the "single mothers" off the dole and out to work, and helped get Clinton re-elected against Bob Dole.

Posted by: Chris at January 3, 2004 at 09:42 PM

RobE and Chris have really drunk the Kool-Aid on Social Security. Make no mistake, it is a welfare program only thinly disguised as a "pension" program. There is no "trust fund" - this year's Social Security payments are paid with this year's tax collections. It takes money out of the pockets of workers and puts it into the pockets of non-workers. That is welfare by any definition. We can argue about whether this is a good idea or not, but please, call it by its true name.

Many recipients of Social Security are perfectly capable of working, which makes them able-bodied unemployed in my book.

The great irony is that Social Security takes money from those in society with the fewest assets (working young people) and transfers it to those with the most assets (the elderly). This makes it welfare for poor people and for rich people. Sweet indeed, unless you are footing the bill.

Posted by: R C Dean at January 3, 2004 at 11:21 PM

R C Dean:

I don't know if you are just young and selfish or truly stupid. Even we oldsters have paid into the system. I have contributed to my Social Security fund since I was 16. My husband was younger than that whe he started working and being taxed. We are now 52 and 53 and are still being taxed. Yes the government has mismanaged the funds, and yes we do intend to receive our Social Security benefits if we ever reach the appropriate age, which the government continues to push back. I have been a member of the working class/working poor all of my life and have never received a welfare benefit, and I certainly don't consider a system that taxes me more now so it can pay me back less in the future a welfare system.

Posted by: Sammie at January 4, 2004 at 01:27 AM


I don't know if you are old and greedy or truly stupid. The amount you oldsters have drawn from Social Security far exceeds anything you put into it. When Social Security was started, life expectancy was at 65. Most people were supposed to die before they could draw on it. It is estimated that the average contributor draws out their contributions within 7 years. This would mean that, if you only drew on funds that you put into the system, you would have Social Security payments until you were 72.
Now, I don't want to see you out on the streets or eating dog food out of a can. But the system, as it is now cannot survive. You may think that you are entitled to it, but that would mean that you are entitled to MY Social Security payments, and in my book, that's welfare.
So, what happened to your Social Security payments? They supported my grandparents, among other things.

Posted by: Geoff Matthews at January 4, 2004 at 02:54 AM

You had to do it Tim. You had to mention Social Security and welfare in the same post. Now there will be 245 comments screeching over this well-chewed bone. Please guys, try not to crash the server.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at January 4, 2004 at 03:19 AM

What's the amount of the unfunded liability of the Security system up to now? $12 trillion? $20 trillion? Social Security is the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. And since it won't exist by the time I reach the age to retire, I've decided to start robbing banks at age 65. If I don't get caught, the loot will provide for me in retirement. If I do get caught, it's a nice older-timers prison for me: Shuffleboard and cardplaying until I die.

Posted by: Pete at January 4, 2004 at 03:43 AM

Pete -

Good thinking! I'll drive getaway.

Posted by: Andrew at January 4, 2004 at 04:30 AM

(Especially since they won't take my driver's license away once I pass 75 or so)

Posted by: Andrew at January 4, 2004 at 04:31 AM

The awful thing is that US Social Security is a welfare program originally marketed as an old-age "buy in" pension scheme.

In reality, as it was pointed out before, this year's taxes pay this year's Social Security check. However, everyone was told otherwise.

It's one of those Desert-topping / floor-wax issues.

Posted by: John Nowak at January 4, 2004 at 04:39 AM

How about we compromise here. We means test SS, but let everybody take out what they put in, with cost-of-living increase (the employer half stays in). Most people would see about the equivalent of 4 years of SS payments (I would let you take it as a lump sum). This would help, even if the means test level was $100,000. My means test would be something like 2 times the poverty level and declining until you hit 3 times the poverty level.

(P.S. I can start collecting fairly soon, so I always tell my students I push them hard so they can get good-paying jobs and I can collect SS until I'm at least 100.)

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at January 4, 2004 at 05:04 AM

John -

> It's one of those Desert-topping / floor-wax issues.

My goodness! A reference to "Shimmer". I think even Dennis Miller would be amazed at the obscurity of that reference!

Posted by: Dave Culp at January 4, 2004 at 05:07 AM

>My goodness! A reference to "Shimmer". I think even Dennis Miller would be amazed at the obscurity of that reference!

Thank you -- I try my best.

Posted by: John Nowak at January 4, 2004 at 05:40 AM

To believe Social Security is a contributitory retirement plan is proof of ignorance; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise more than sixty years ago. The payroll tax was ruled to be just a tax like any other tax; it is not a contribution or a payment into the "Social Security system".

That you believed the lie that the politicians continued to tell after that date is unfortunate, but does not constitute an obligation on me. That may make me a selfish youngster, but I did not make the lying promises.

When the SS system was last overhauled in 1982 you people nearing retirement age were part of the electorate. That the politicians you elected have already spent the money you were taxed does not constitute an obligation on my part to maintain you in old age.

Oh, I'm willing enough to give you enough supplemental welfare that you can stay in from the cold and eat on top of whatever private retirement you have. (I'd rather tell you to work or prove disability like anyone else on welfare, but I'm willing to compromise a bit here.) But the politicians you elected already spent your money, and I don't consider your bad choice of politicians a lien on my earnings.

Posted by: Warmongering Lunatic at January 4, 2004 at 05:41 AM


I've got a better compromise for you: Let me opt out of SS. They can keep the 40k+ dollars they've taken from me, and I agree that I can't collect from SS when I retire.

Posted by: Pete at January 4, 2004 at 05:46 AM

Whoops....*count = couch

Posted by: Matt from Vegas at January 4, 2004 at 05:47 AM

He draws US$3,000 a month? Now that's drifting in style. This would just about pay for a 4-star hotel room in SF. He must be blowing it all in the Tenderloin district,

Posted by: Craig Mc at January 4, 2004 at 07:49 AM

To believe Social Security is a contributitory retirement plan is proof of ignorance;

In Australia people cannot do the maths, either.

Age Pension recipients fervently believe that they have 'earned' their pension by paying taxes.

Even more ridiculous, many Australians believe that the 1% Medicare Levy pays for the Health System.

Posted by: Peggy Sue at January 4, 2004 at 08:39 AM

Come on Peggy Sue. What about the big pot of gold in Canberra that the govt doesn't spend just because they are all big meanies!

Posted by: Quentin George at January 4, 2004 at 09:57 AM

Mickey Kaus had a great line and I paraphrase, "Someone is going to have to pay for all of this government spending, and who better to pay for it than future taxpayers?"

I'm in a transitional mode now that I just had my 44th birthday. Just a few years before, I cursed the system that leached my paychecks to bankroll the elderly. Now I just want to live long enough to get my picture taken at the mailbox getting my first check. I'm sure it will be a full blown, honestly earned entitlement for me by the time I hit 50.

Posted by: arlo at January 4, 2004 at 03:36 PM

I'm inclined to be more sympathetic, myself. It's not Sammie's fault that her retirement fund was raided, and it's probably impossible to get her money back without my paying. She was defrauded by people now dead. Of course she wants her money back.

Posted by: John Nowak at January 4, 2004 at 04:50 PM

I know how you feel!
If I can live as long as my parents,
I'll collect my retirement benefit for longer than I paid in!

Posted by: May Lee at January 4, 2004 at 05:38 PM

I am sure that this has been said an no one will read this - BUT - US social security is also dipped into by those who "need it" like my dead-beat sister did 26 years ago when she had my nephew along with other benefits until she married someone to pay her way in the world (read has never worked a day in her life and don't give me the "she's a mother" crap or I will have to tel you how my parents ended up raising her boy for a while...)

Also, orphaned children receive socal security until the stop education (graduate school).

I am sure there are other loop-holes and FDR did no envision that small generations (post 1965) would be paying for the big generations (1945-1964) ahead of us 2010 onwards....

Posted by: Catherine at January 4, 2004 at 06:24 PM

Another thing I don't understand why people beleive is the myth that "you pay 50% or your SS tax and your employeer pays 50%". BS. That 50% is just part of his payroll cost just like your salary. It could have been your salary. There is no magic pot of money that allows him to give money to the govenrment on your behalf without affecting what he can pay you.

Posted by: Ted at January 4, 2004 at 07:39 PM

I see that my senile dementia has caused me to fail to respond to Mr. Dean's response in a timely manner. I don't think any adult in the USA perceives Social Security to be a contributory retirement plan. We all know the fund is bankrupt; however, just as you have contributed involuntarily, so have we. If my generation's taxes paid for your granparents subsistence, I'm glad we were able to do that. My point is, people who reach benefit age, mine is 67, and have been taxed for those Social Security benefits should not be lumped with people who pay nothing into the system. Social Security Retirement benefits should not be derogatorily assumed to be the same thing as Supplemental Social Income, which is paid, from the Social Security fund, to people who have not paid sufficiently into the system to receive a disability or retirement benefit. Several years ago, when the government in its infinite wisdom, decided that certain birth defects (including spina bifida) qualified children for Social Security disability payments, it was also determined that the children would receive payments in lump sum from the time of their births to the time of their disability determination. Each of those children receive a monthly disability benefit for life. Although I agree that someone must help support people who are disabled from birth, I don't think it should have come from the Social Security fund. No, I didn't vote for those guys. I usually back a loser. I must admit that, when social workers speak of "entitlements," they do lump all Social Security benefits in with food stamps and Medicaid. Oh well, bear in mind that even the Civil Ware Confederate soldiers received "old age pensions."

Posted by: Sammie at January 5, 2004 at 02:42 PM

Sorry. As far as I know there has never been a Civil WARE in the U.S. There was a rather disruptive Civil WAR here some time ago. My people were on the wrong side of that one too.

Posted by: Sammie at January 5, 2004 at 02:50 PM