Dallas, TX – As a trusting person, I have often been the butt of life's practical jokes. The most recent is the one played on me by the Social Security system and my old employer, the Dallas County Community College System. I labored there twenty-four years, bringing lessons of mass construction to a coalition of the unwilling. I was a teacher.
During the 6,456 days on the job, I attended, maybe, a thousand meetings. These meetings addressed every meaningless topic the administrative brain could imagine. You would think that one day, a dean would have walked in the room and announced the following: "Since the DCCCD does not participate in the Social Security System, and since you have therefore not paid into it, when you retire you will not receive any Social Security benefits. You know this. But what you probably do not know is that, even if you qualify for benefits by way of another employer that does participate, you will be penalized simply because you worked for a non-participating company."
No administrator ever said such a thing. They said just about every needless thing. But the one thing that would have benefited us to know, something that was far from needless, they did not say. No administrator, in any meeting I ever attended ever said, "If you have enough Social Security credits to qualify for a pension when you retire, please be advised that since you worked for us, the government will figure your entitlement on another formula. This formula, which is understood only by tax lawyers, will reduce your monthly check by more than half."
I had Social Security credits from other jobs but still lacked the minimum to qualify. So I taught after retirement at participating colleges and did voice-over work in order to bring my credits up to qualifying level. When I went in to my nearest Social Security office to register, this was when I learned I was the butt of the joke. The joke is called the "Windfall Elimination Provision." The laugh was on me because I earned a teacher's pension at a college that doesn't participate in the Social Security System. Again, this means that my social security benefits are reduced by more than half. There is an explanation for this but it is written in bureaucratic language, something about protecting lower-paid workers. But I don't think there were very many workers who were jealous of my pay bracket. In any case, how does penalizing teachers help low-paid workers?
And I am not complaining about the penalty. I trust that it has meaning for others. And, after all, if I had saved the dollars each month that were not deducted for Social Security I would have had my own windfall at retirement, maybe thirty-thousand dollars plus interest. My complaint is directed toward my employer for keeping this information as a secret. However, I always tend to think surprises like this are my own fault, that I was told and didn't listen, or that I was absent the day they called a meeting and told us.
Some of my friends who still toil in the DCCCD have earned Social Security credits by teaching elsewhere. Others may have qualified at other colleges before coming to work there. They may not know of the dread Windfall Elimination Provision. They may, however, read all about it by sending for SSA Publication No. 05-10045, or by logging onto www.socialsecurity.gov.
Or they may prefer to get a "Kick Me" sign and wear it on their backs instead.
Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.