Thursday, May 30, 2013

Money for Your Kids You Never Knew About

As a life lesson to me, my grandmother used to recite an old Austrian saying:
If someone gives you something, take it.
If someone takes something from you, scream.
This came to mind last week when my longtime hair cutter confessed to me that he had somewhat guiltily accepted an offer he had never expected.
Married late, he has a daughter in high school. When he  recently applied for Social Security, the agent explained that his daughter was entitled to  Social Security as well: $1,000 a month, about half the amount of his benefit. The payments last through 12th grade.
"I'm still working, but if they're going to give it to me, I'm taking it," he told me as he blow-dried my hair. "I would never have known about this if the agent hadn't told me."
If he had to vote on whether the child of a 66-year-old who still works and can afford to educate his child should get benefits, he would vote "No." But as long as it was handed to him ...
This got me wondering: How old would you have to be when your baby was born to still have that child in high school at age 66, when your full Social Security benefits kick in?
Answer:  48 or older at your child's birth.  (It's 44 if you're taking the reduced benefits at 62.)
That leaves few moms eligible with payouts for their student-children. But perhaps a lot of dads --and more in the future -- because a lot of men seem to increasingly move like snails when it comes to marriage and parenthood. (Ask my daughters!)
I also pondered: How many people, like my hair cutter, don't really need this benefit? Should it be means tested -- taking Social Security down that slippery slope?
Surprisingly, I found myself in agreement with a post last year on the conservative Heritage Foundation website headlined, "Social Security Pays Benefits to Millionaires' Children." It names an 80-year-old California congressman, Pete Stark, supposedly worth $27 million, whose children get Social Security. A writer in Investment News last summer called this the "Viagra College Benefit." She guessed it would be axed if Congress ever got around to reforming Social Security.
But according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Social Security experts say payments to well-off families are rare, with most children who get support doing so because a parent has died or become disabled. The benefits are intended to "help to provide the necessities of life for family members and help to make it possible for those children to complete high school," a Social Security spokesperson said.  
 The "student benefit," started in 1939, is aimed at assuring that the children of retirees finish high school, rather than being forced to take a job to help support the family.  In 1965, amendments to the Social Security Act extended the benefit to age 22 -- through college. 
Bad idea. 
"In the peak year of 1977, almost 900,000 students were receiving this type of benefit, according to a history written by the agency. "In the peak pay-out year of 1981, almost $2.4 billion was paid in the form of student benefits."
That's when Congress finally acted to phase out the college add-on.
A 2011 study by the Social Security Administration, based on 2004 data, found that about 9 percent of all children receiving OASDI (Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance)  get it for "old age," simply because a parent has retired. (The other 91 percent are to children of a disabled or deceased parent.) The average payment in 2004 was $426 a month to each of the 278,000 "old age" student recipients.
The study concluded that "although some children in this category are well off, a substantial segment exhibits financial vulnerability."
Today, according to Social Security's latest statistical snapshot, 634,000 students get SS benefits because a parent is retired, with the average payment of $621 a month. (See, the numbers are climbing!)
So, what do you think about this? If offered to you, will you take it? Or if taken away, will you scream?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Rant on What You Should Call Me

Dump those words!!! The Forward has printed my argument for banning E-words and the like, with this great illustration by Kurt Hoffman. It's part of the Forward's new Aging section.
You can see all the stories at this link , including mine. Or just keep reading:.

Elderly. Senior. Senior Citizen. Aged. Olster. Old.
The words rile. They’re not me. I ski, scull, climb mountains, blog, freelance and, yes, enjoy sex, even as I qualify for Social Security. Nor do they describe an energized generation of 60 and 70-somethings and beyond, many of whom shun the word “retirement.”  These men and women may be leaving longtime careers but they are not “pulling back,” which “retire” (from the French retirer) means.
Instead, many are moving on to new challenges and to exhilarating pursuits – bringing their expertise and education to other venues, developing latent skills and creativity, and competing athletically at the highest levels.
Take the Boston Marathon runner shown repeatedly on TV in April as he was knocked to the ground by the first bomb. That was Bill Iffrig, 78, who then stood up and finished the race.
What got me ranting about words used to describe people of a certain age? It was a news story last year about  a woman who fought off a purse snatcher. She landed in the hospital with broken facial bones – but still had her purse. The reporter called her “elderly,” and quoted a police officer who said she was, “like most grandparents, a little feisty.” She was 66.
Now I understand the insult my parents felt when, in their 70s, they came through customs after a ski trip. “What’s in the big bag?” the agent asked.
“Skis,” they said. The customs agent lifted an incredulous eyebrow and laughed.
Older people have long felt diminished by such condescension. In 1940, the industrialist-philanthropist Bernard Baruch (at age 70) reportedly said, “Old age is always 15 years older than I am.” Since then, however, American lifespans have expanded significantly.
In 1960, a newborn could expect to live to age 70. Today it’s 78. And those who make it to 65 can expect to live another 19 years, to age 84 on average.
People who leave careers in their 50s or 60 may well enjoy 30 more years of dynamic life, before they become frail and infirm, perhaps rightfully called “old.”  And the cohort of healthy older folks is exploding. In 1940, nine million Americans were over 65. Today there are more than 42 million – a big group to offend, with the Boomers just entering the frame.
Anna Quindlen, in her book  Lots of  Candles, Plenty  of Cake, also rails against the word “elderly,” which she admits to having used “with casual regularity” as a younger writer. Now 60, she admits that as she aged, ‘‘elderly’’ seemed “more and more pejorative … When people lived to be 65, 60 was old. When they live to be 80, 60 is something else. …So we face an entirely new stage of human existence without nomenclature, which is an interesting challenge, because what we call things matters.”
To keep pace with the changing times, Elderhostel got rid of “elder” and became Road Scholar in 2010. Today,  programs once aimed at “seniors” are now for “life learners.” AARP wants you to forget that its acronym once stood for the American Association for Retired Persons.
The idea of “adolescence” didn’t exist over the centuries when children went straight to adulthood, working in fields or factories. That changed in 1904 with the publication of psychologist G. Stanley Hall’s Adolescence. Now there’s a drumbeat to name yet another emerging demographic, the one before frailty and dependence set in.
In her 2006 book, Doing Sixty and Seventy, Gloria Steinem writes:  “I’m beginning to see that life after 50 or 60 is itself another country, as different as adolescence is from childhood, or as adulthood is from adolescence--and just as adventurous… If it’s to become a place of dignity and power, it will require a movement as big as any other.”
In recent years, writers, sociologists and others have proposed names for life post-60 or so. Parade Magazine readers, in a contest, suggested “seasoned citizens,”  “geri-actives,” “zoomers,” and “wellderly.” Others have proposed “third age,” “third act,” “middlesence,” “late middle age,” and “life- take2.”  
Marc Freedman, a leader in the movement to recast the image of older people, founded (formerly Experience Corps) and the Purpose Prize. “Never before have so many people had so much experience and the time and the capacity to do something significant with it,” Freedman writes. “That’s the gift of longevity.”
Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, titled her 2009 book The Third Chapter and calls this time of life  "the generative space that follows young adulthood and middle age.”
Anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, in her 2010 book Composing a Further Life, argues that the challenge in growing older is to continue to find ways to contribute, drawing on “the wisdom culled from long lives and rich experience.” Conversely, society’s challenge is “to recognize that contribution and to benefit from it instead of dismissing it.”
So, what to call people like me? I’m okay with “older person” or “late middle aged,” which is how I feel. Better yet, I’m in my “encore” stage of life. Or you could just cite my age, 67.
Perhaps Quindlen says it best: “After the middle ages comes the renaissance.”

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Art of Compulsion

If you’re quirky enough,
Howard Finster: Henry Ford fulfilling a prophesy
creative enough, and driven enough, you can become famous – even if you launch yourself at age 60  -- or 80.  
The proof is in the Outsider art exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where artist after artist became compelled, late in life, to do the only thing for which they are now remembered.
Take Howard Finster a revivalist preacher in Georgia who got a message from God, or so he believed. At age 60, while painting a bike, he believed that a white smudge on his finger had transformed itself into the face of God and directed him to make “sacred art.” He couldn’t stop cramming his paintings with small constructions and biblical texts, numbering, dating and time stamping each one until they totaled 48,000, said our tour guide, Art Museum docent Meighan Maley.
“He had a fascination for Henry Ford because there’s a prophecy that predicted a man would create a horseless chariot." Meighan explained.  "Finster believed that Henry Ford fulfilled that prophecy.”
Finster became famous in his lifetime, creating prize-winning album covers for groups like REM and Talking Heads, and appearing on the Johnny Carson show.
Sam Doyle drew islands's  first African American doctor 
Sam Doyle, who was born in a Gullah community on Helena Island, S.C., worked as a porter and laundry worker, only taking up art seriously in his early 60s.
 Working often in corrugated metal, he depicts people on the island, especially African American “firsts” – the first embalmer, the first doctor. His art was shown in 1982, three years before his death, at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Felipe Archuleta

Felipe Archuleta
Felipe Benito Archuleta, who had worked as a field hand, stone mason, cook and carpenter, at age 54, unable to find work, prayed for help; God told him to carve sculptures. “His animals, to me, there’s a sweetness to them but there’s also a ferociousness about them. Something that reminded him that life was not always easy,” Meighan said.

But it’s Bill Traylor, who really gets the late start. The child of slaves, himself born a slave in 1853, Traylor worked his life as a farmhand. And at age 82, with no wife or kids around anymore, he moves 35 miles away to Montgomery, Ala. where he starts working in a shoe factory. But his hands are so arthritic, he can’t work and becomes homeless, sleeping in the storage area of a funeral parlor. Finally, “he sets up a  box outside a pool hall under an awning and just begins to create art from whatever he can find… scraps of paper on the ground,” said Meighan. A recent art school graduate,  impressed with his work, provides him with materials.
Runaway Goat Cart (Bill Traylor)

Men Drinking, Boys Tormenting, Dogs Barking (Bill Traylor)

Turning to Traylor's piece, “Men Drinking, Boys Tormenting, Dogs Barking, Meighan explains why he's recognized as one of the top Outsider artists, someone with no connection to what was going on in the art world, who nonetheless starts playing with perspective and shape, like the Cubists:  “He’s telling stories that are superimposed, juxtaposed. This is the interior and the exterior of a building," she said. A man in the doorway connects the two. Traylor "really becomes a master of using color, shape and space -- not only the shape of the figures but the negative space that surrounds them (the background) to convey movement and emotion to tell his story. He becomes very well known long after his death.”
Meighan Maley

Our tour had gone well beyond the hour allotted; Meighan's group was thrilled. Meighan, who worked as a hospital pharmacist for 20 years, was too.
"I retired in need of something that, in addition to taking care of my family, would fill my soul," she wrote me later in an email. As a volunteer docent, she said, "I quickly realized I found that 'it', which had been indefinably elusive for so long. For many reasons, this gives me joy."
Of the Outsider art exhibit, she said, "I didn't expect for the artists and their works to touch me so deeply."
The show, "Great and Mighty Things." made up of works from the  Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection, is open  at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through June 9, 2013.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Leading the Way: Judy and Paul Farber

Keep opening doors. That’s what I vowed to do when I left my job more than a year ago. Don’t get stuck. Don’t get in a rut. And this week, once again, the small effort it took to detour from the usual path of my day made all the difference.
That's how I met Paul and Judy Farber, a remarkable couple who never skipped a beat after leaving their careers. The Farbers found their new paths in much the way I found them, on a guided Art Museum walk along Boathouse Row.
Park House guides Judy and Paul Farber, forever learning

We all started out as strangers the other day, a large group of about 20 people, quickly split into two. Paul, a soft-spoken man with a pleasant, round face, led my contingent down the slope behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, past the geometric garden designed by Sol LeWitt and the statues of six Revolutionary War heroes, only one of whom was born on American soil. (Already I was learning something). Paul knows his stuff. The neoclassical Water Works, he explained, was built in 1811, “to provide water to the citizenry – the first city to do this.” The pumps were initially powered by steam engines. “That didn’t work out because steam engines required wood and it was too expensive to run. They solved the problem by putting a dam across the Schuylkill River in 1821, at the time the biggest and longest dam in the United States, 1200 feet. It was also a haven for tourists, the second most popular spot after Niagara Falls,” Paul said.
Dodging bikers, we studied the city’s iconic Victorian boathouses, built after 1860 to replace the “ramshackle affairs” that housed the early sculls.
Soon a member of my group, history buff and rower Clifford Pearlman, pulled out his key to let us into the University Barge Club, where he showed off their 19th century wooden “lady boat,” the Marguerite. With a two-person bench in the back, it was used to row women to social facilities owned by the clubs upriver.
Dating from the 1800s

By the time we reached the statue of the first Viking to land in America, (who turns out to be Thorfinn Karlsefni not Leif Erickson, as many think), we’d become a congenial group. Boundaries had been crossed, doors opened. Finally, we met up with the other half of our tour, who had wondered what had delayed us. Only then did I learn that Paul’s wife, Judy, was their leader.
So how did Paul Farber, DDS, PhD, who taught pathology to medical and dental students at Temple University, and Judy Farber, once supervisor of speech and hearing for the Philadelphia School District, come to be Park House guides?
“We went on a Water Works tour. We had never done that and we’d come to Philadelphia in 1969. We both loved it,” said the chatty, ebulient Judy, who is the same age as her husband, 75.
“We were talking to the guide and we said, ‘How do you get to do this?’ They were starting a new class. We applied, were interviewed and started the training program. It took a year and a half of going to classes one day a week from 10 to 3. We were checked out for various tours and became guides.”
The training doesn’t end there. “There are continuing education classes and trips to historic sites,” Judy said. “We are reevaluated every two years. Paul was just evaluated, and I was reevaluated a few months ago.”
They’re not paid except in the satisfaction and stimulation that they get. “I love it,” said Judy. We both say this is for us. I don’t consider this good works. I love the stories, the people stories. We learn so much.”
Their transition, Paul explained, began with their decision to move from the suburbs into the city.
“That was a big step,” Paul said. And then counseled:
“Don’t let it go too long because it’s a physically demanding thing to move. It’s also a liberating thing. You have to take stock of yourself.”
And downsizing to two bedrooms was a gift to their children. “Otherwise you’ll leave the job to your heirs. We left our kids a good legacy.”