“Your daddy was so happy,” Zenwa Uncle said. “He said, ‘All the kids doing fine. Roy was doing good in school. Ned going Punahou. Everybody doing well.’ … We were eating. He told a joke, everybody laughed. Him too. But he pulled his head back, laughed, and died.”
Two thousand forty three (2043): U.S. Census Bureau projection of when the United States will become “majority minority,” that is, whites will comprise less than 50 percent of the U.S. population.
In 1980, a few months after Mom retired at 65, she traveled across the country to visit all of her seven kids and (then) two grandchildren for a few days, going through San Francisco, to the East Coast, then circling back to Seattle and Portland, Oregon, where I was living, before heading back to Honolulu. That was the plan.
But the reality: A week and a half in intensive care, two surgeries, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens with layers of volcanic dust all around us, rehab and exercises to boost her memory, extended Mom’s stay in Portland about a month.
My siblings alternated visiting for a few weeks to help me during those difficult days with Mom recuperating in the hospital and at my home so that she could travel home. One of our tasks was to ask her questions such as “what day of the week is it?” and “what’s your name,” or “who’s the President of the United States.”
We decided to also ask her about her history. Stuff we didn’t know about. We learned a lot, like: her parents spoke mostly Uchinanguchi (Okinawan language) at home and she learned Japanese at Japanese School, which signaled to me that she was tri-lingual. After a third day of “testing her memory,” she abruptly waved us off with her hands and said, “Enough. I can remember. No more questioning.”
But I did have some more conversations with Mom as my daughter and I accompanied Mom home. An important one was about a nice Social Security man (shortly after Dad died in 1962) who came and advised me to get a job.
“‘Any kind of job. Just get a job,’ he said. ‘Because you will only get Social Security benefits for yourself until your kids finish college. After that you have to wait until you turn 65, he said.’” Not only did he inform Mom about the payments, he also told her about the necessity of having an account of her own.
I’ve thought about her words often, especially ever since I first filed for Social Security: “… came and advised me.” Was Social Security doing outreach then?
* * *
What a different era that must have been. Five years ago, when I first signed up for SSA, I was told that if the lines at the office were too long (which it was: 45 minutes minimum), I could set up an appointment by phone. Well, the wait time on my first phone call to set up the appointment was 20 minutes, which ended by a broken phone connection. After a 15-minute wait on the second call, I did manage to make an appointment for the following week.
A couple of years ago in order to verify my son had a bank account to receive his own SSA funds directly, the procedure took only 10 minutes, but the wait in line was over an hour.
More recently, last year, in July, I waited for two hours in a line to get inside the SSA office and then, once inside the office, I had to wait another hour and 45 minutes before spending a mere 5 minutes to resolve the problem.
When I told the SSA agent about the wait, she was horrified and said that I was the first person at the office she was serving that day, and that “the phone kept ringing the moment I hung up, so I had no time to work at the window.”
In just a five-year period, the service had gone from bad to worse. But judging from the agent’s description of her day, and the service I actually received once getting past the line, the real problem was there simply weren’t enough workers to carry the load.
“Is it like this every day? “ I asked the security guard.
“If you come before we open,” he answered with a very straight face, “there is no line.”
“Wow,” I thought, “this really sucks.” But I decided to push my luck at getting answers. “I’m a reporter. I’m thinking of writing about this experience.”
He paused, didn’t answer immediately. I think he was wondering if I was secretly recording him. He answered, “It’s crowded every day. Not like this all the time. This is the beginning of the month. It’s more crowded then. But it’s always crowded. Like I said, ‘if you get here early enough, there’s no line.’”
This scene was taking place in the Kent SSA office. My SSA office. Where people sit patiently for hours waiting for their number to flash on the screen because they have no other choice available. Some come with someone to translate for them. Some play games on their smart phone. Different languages can be heard. A very mixed crowd. Definitely a 2043 crowd. A “majority minority” crowd.
* * *
For over four years community activists have been working with Seattle Social Security Works coalition in fighting (1) to keep the SSA offices in the International District and in the Central Area and, once SSA went through with the move to the Jackson Federal Building, (2) to open a different, user-friendly office for our communities.
About two years ago, I wrote about the Jackson Federal Building: “Many of us know JFB. Intimidating. Even more so when there’s some demonstration going on there. It’s on a hill (a killer for grandma or granddad, and me too). No more free bus transportation to and from. Only expensive parking available.”
The SSA’s own data shows big drops in the numbers of field office visits—24 percent after the neighborhood offices were closed. Projected over a year, that’s 17,000 less visits per year. And what was SSA’s response to our report? SSA cut off our access to the data.
What happened between the era that Mom received some extremely important advice and the SSA of today which doesn’t listen to us, or even worse, denies us access to what is really ours?
Is this because we’re a 2043 crowd they’re dealing with? A population not even worth thinking about? That has no political power?
After more than three years, we’re still being stonewalled by SSA. Their only answer has been, “We have to cut services now or there won’t be any SSA in the future.”
Of course, this isn’t true. But the “1 percent” that now governs us has become very mean and greedy over the last few decades and we’ve got a national media corps that is asleep and passes on the message of the “1 percent” without doing their own research.
There are numerous plans being offered that could, in fact, provide revenue streams to successfully expand SSA, but the easiest and most efficient way, is to SCRAP the CAP.
All employees pay Social Security taxes, up until a ceiling, known as the “cap,” which is currently set at $118,500. What this means is that a person making $118,500 a year pays 6.2 percent taxes for SS. A person making $1,000,000/year pays only 0.68 percent, significantly less than one per cent. If everyone paid the same 6.2 percent, the SS system would be in good shape for future retirees.
Let’s demand an expansion of SS programs. There are a lot more people now who need the kind of help that Mom got back in 1962. There are a lot more people who need the kind of help Mom got when she was in a coma in the hospital in Portland. And most of all, there’s going to be a lot more people who will need the kind of help Mom got while she lived out her life in a nursing home in Seattle.
All of us “99 percent” should be working to stop the plans of the 1 percent. If they get their way, the world will be a very bleak world by 2043. “Strengthen Social Security, SCRAP THE CAP!”