Social Security and today's woman

Nearly every American has Social Security protection, either as a worker or as a dependent of a worker. When the program began in 1935, Social Security benefits were limited to retired workers, and most workers were men.

Today, the role of women is far different. Nearly 60 percent of all women are in the nation's workforce. Many women work throughout their adult lives. Although Social Security always has provided benefits for women, it has taken on added significance as more women work, pay Social Security taxes and earn credit toward a monthly income for their retirement.

Working women with children earn Social Security protection for themselves and their families. This could mean monthly benefits to a woman and her family if she becomes disabled and can no longer work. If she dies, her survivors may be eligible for benefits.

Although some women choose lifetime careers outside the home, many women work for a few years, leave the labor force to raise their children and then return to work. Some women choose not to work outside their homes; they usually are covered by Social Security through their husband's employer and can receive benefits when he retires, if he becomes disabled or when he dies.

Whether a woman works, used to work or has never worked, it is important that she know exactly what Social Security coverage means to her. She also should know about Social Security coverage for anyone she may hire as a household worker or provider of child care. She needs to know what to do if she changes her name. And she needs to know that if she receives a pension for work not covered by Social Security, her Social Security benefits could be affected.

{h3} When you work and pay Social Security taxes

You earn Social Security credits that can qualify you and your family for disability and survivors' insurance coverage. You have this coverage whether you work for an employer or whether you are self-employed. You're also earning credits toward your retirement benefits. In addition, you're earning Medicare protection for yourself and your family in the event you, or they, ever need dialysis treatment or a kidney transplant. You're also earning Medicare protection that will be available when you reach age 65.

{h3} If you become disabled

You may be able to get disability benefits provided you have worked long enough under Social Security. You will be considered disabled if you cannot do work you did before and Social Security decides that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s). Your disability also must last or be expected to last for at least a year or to result in death.

Your disability payments would start with the sixth full month of your disability — there's a five-month waiting period — and would continue as long as you are disabled. If you receive disability payments for 24 consecutive months, you also acquire Medicare protection.

If you become disabled, your unmarried children can get benefits, too. Monthly checks are payable to your biological or legally adopted children, or dependent stepchildren or grandchildren who:

* Are under age 18.

* Become disabled before age 22 and remain disabled.

* Are age 18 to 19 and attending elementary or secondary school full-time.

If you are married and your husband is age 62 or older, he may qualify for payments if you become disabled. He may qualify at any age if he is caring for your child who is under age 16 or disabled and entitled to benefits.

{h3} When you die

Both your widower and your dependent children may receive monthly survivors benefits. A one-time payment for burial expenses of $255 also may be payable to your widower or dependent children.

If there are no dependent children, your widower must be either age 60 or older or between the ages of 50 and 60 and disabled to qualify for benefits on your work record. If you have dependent parents age 62 or older, they may be eligible for payments when you die.

{h3} Next week

Explaining some special employment situations and retirement.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at


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