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Austin AARP Volunteer: Social Security Is Vital

AUSTIN, Texas – After three decades as an educator, Mary Ragland is drawing from two pensions and modest Social Security earnings to make ends meet in retirement.

At 81 and retired for more than a decade, Ragland, a longtime AARP volunteer in Austin, lives frugally but occasionally taps into an IRA to treat herself to short excursions. She considers herself fortunate.

“I have neighbors living here in my community who have only Social Security and not very much of that,” she said. “Some have lived long enough that it is not as sufficient as it needs to be. They’re having to live with their children, some of them in (government subsidized) housing. They would be homeless without Social Security.”

Mary Ragland image
Volunteer Mary Ragland speaks to fellow AARP members in south Austin. 

August 14 is the 80th anniversary of Social Security, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law to protect ordinary Americans “against the loss of a job and poverty-ridden old age.” In Texas today, 3.6 million, or one of seven residents, receive Social Security, including 88 percent of all Texans over the age of 65. Texans earn their benefits through a lifetime of hard work. As a result, it insures families against the loss of income caused by retirement, disability, or death.

Ragland understands well how dependent she is on each component of her retirement income. “If I didn’t have Social Security, I would be really pushed to make it month to month,” she said. “If I didn’t have those pensions, I would be desperate.”

Born in Colorado, Ragland married a Texan in 1952 and moved to this state two years later. They had three children together, and now have eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was a rancher who had served in the Air Force. They divorced 27 years ago, and she has since lived in Austin.

When married, the couple moved often, staying in small towns throughout Texas. With both bachelors and master’s degree in education, Ragland took up teaching because it was one of the few career choices available to women in rural places at the time. She also comes from a family of teachers.

For 10 years, Ragland worked for a small school district that didn’t pay into Social Security. As a result, her Social Security earnings aren’t nearly as much as other former teachers she knows. After working as a teacher, mostly teaching low-income students at public schools in Texas, Ragland worked for five years at the Texas Education Agency. She then went to work at the University of Texas, directing a federal program that provided assistance to high-poverty schools in Texas.

Asked what she thought of Social Security’s impact on this country, Ragland said she imagines that most older Americans just couldn’t get by without it. “I would guess that 95 percent of the people who receive Social Security have to spend it on their needs immediately. It’s that important.”

-- Mark Hollis


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