Ross: The hidden benefit of Social Security, funding our volunteers

Nov 8, 2023, 8:04 AM | Updated: 8:54 am

A food bank volunteer prepares a free food basket of two young women in New York. (Photo by © Vivi...

A food bank volunteer prepares a free food basket of two young women in New York. (Photo by © Viviane Moos/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

(Photo by © Viviane Moos/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Last week, I talked about my generous social security check and questioned whether those of us who would get along fine without that money should be getting it.

That prompted a note from a listener in Everett named Meg, who wanted to point out that retirees earned that money not just because they paid into the system but because of how hard many of them work in retirement.

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“Just want you to know that I am retired, receiving Social Security, and volunteering. Every nonprofit I volunteer with would not function without retired people with the time, interest, and energy to help it function,” Meg wrote.

And so, she looks at Social Security as a kind of compensation for the volunteer work that becomes a second career for so many retirees.

So, I wrote back to ask her how she was volunteering.

It turns out Meg retired at age 66 after 30 years in the Everett School District, and now, at age 70, here’s what’s on her calendar.

First, she volunteers at the Everett Clubhouse for mental health rehabilitation, where she also serves on the advisory board. She has a personal interest because her son is living with mental illness, and she and her husband have taken on the responsibility of making sure he has stable housing and good counseling.

But it doesn’t stop there, she is also a deacon at her church, providing rides to get senior citizens to their medical appointments, as well as preparing meals. She is also a member of “PEO International,” which supports women’s education through scholarships and loans.

And finally – since her daughter is an elementary school librarian – she volunteers at the school library. Not just to support her daughter but because the kids are so adorable.

So that’s a pretty busy retirement.

In her note, Meg asked whether there was any research on the economic value of retired volunteers.

It turns out there is! A study by Americorps estimates that each year, about one and a half million Washingtonians participate in volunteer service, with their work estimated to contribute $4.1 billion worth of services. And in this state, people over the age of 65 provided about 28% of all the volunteer hours worked.

So that’s another way to look at Social Security: It gives retired people the freedom to participate in the causes they really care about, the schools, the churches, the meal programs, all of which make life a little easier and help keep communities together.

The point being you can’t just focus on what Social Security costs without also acknowledging what it gives back.

Thanks, Meg.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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