Whidbey Islanders depend on Social Security

Harold Johnson and Joe Malsom enjoy a meal paid for by Social Security income at Harbor Tower Village. - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Harold Johnson and Joe Malsom enjoy a meal paid for by Social Security income at Harbor Tower Village.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

Few people think of Social Security checks as economic development, but in Island County the money not only helps seniors but props up the local economy.

Social Security income affects small cities, such as those in Island County, more than urban counties, with 8 percent of the total personal income in Island County coming from Social Security.

That totaled more than $239 million in 2009, according to the Social Security Administration.

Most of this money is spent locally, which is especially important in smaller cities like Oak Harbor.

“When you get to be our ages, you really don’t travel a long distance anymore,” said Joe Malsom, 89. He spends the majority of his money on North Whidbey Island, including his Social Security income.

Social Security payments equal 5 percent of the total income in urban counties whereas in counties with small cities, such as Island County, the payments amount to 8.2 percent of total income. In rural counties, payments equal 9.3 percent of total income, according to the SSA.

Social Security beneficiaries represent 21.4 percent of the total Island County population, meaning more than one in five people receive a Social Security check.

“I spend it all here,” Chuck Bos, 96, said.

“I don’t drive and I don’t go anywhere,” Nancy Simmons said, adding that she spends all of her money locally and that she thinks that by spending locally people are helping Oak Harbor and other island towns.

In 2009, there were 17,370 people who received Social Security payments in Island County. The average Social Security income was $12,300 for Island County and $11,900 for Washington state.

As a proportion of total personal income, Social Security payments have been increasing. In 1970, payments amounted to 3 percent of the total income. In 1980, that increased to 4.6 percent, then 4.7 percent in 1990, 5.9 percent in 2000 and 8 percent in 2009, according to the SSA.

Diane Carr and Leon Sher both said they aren’t getting enough Social Security money.

“I get it and in half an hour, it’s gone,” Carr said. After her husband died four years ago, she lost $1,000 per month of Social Security income but still has to pay the same bills, which has been a struggle for her.

Because of his personal situation, Sher doubts that paying the Social Security tax all those years will pay off for him.

“I’ll never be able to recover the money I put into the pot,” Sher said, adding that he feels robbed.

Possible Social Security income cuts make Simmons uneasy.

“I would be hurting. I would have to cut off the phone and insurance,” Simmons said.

Social Security payments go to those over the age of 62 who have filed for benefits, to survivors of insured workers and to those with disabilities. The program is mainly funded by payroll taxes, according to the SSA.


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