Examining My Earnings Record

I didn’t realize there would be so many small numbers.

I just got my Social Security Statement. Currently, my payment will be “about $1,944 a month at full retirement age,” which is just enough to cover my basic overhead expenses right now, so let’s hope the cost of living doesn’t go up over the next thirty years.

I mean, that’s a joke, of course, I’m going to keep working, and my Social Security benefit will be augmented by whatever I get out of my 403(b) account (current projected benefit: $493/month) and the Roth IRA I want to start investing in this year.

My Social Security Statement notes that I have been working, pretty steadily, since I was fifteen years old. (I actually started “working” when I was thirteen, although “volunteering at the nursing home” won’t show up on a Social Security Statement. Neither will “helping my mom teach piano lessons.”)

But wow, there are a lot of small numbers on that list. Since I am not a tax professional, I don’t know why those numbers are different than my adjusted gross income—or why, in at least one case, the number is higher than my adjusted gross income—but you can still track my earnings history, more or less, by looking at the list. I was in college from 2000–2004, in grad school from 2005–2008, and I started freelancing in 2012.

(I also don’t know why two of the years are $0. In 2003, I spent my summer doing a college “independent research” program, but even then I got a grant, and I was also housesitting and dog-walking. In 2006, I was working for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, and those earnings got folded up into my graduate student stipend, but they were still earnings. Maybe I just didn’t earn enough, either of those years.)

Do you ever look at these earnings records, when you get your Social Security Statement? I’m kind of disappointed in mine. I feel like I’ve been working so hard, at so many different kinds of jobs, and have so very little to show for it.