AARP AARP States Virginia Advocacy

What Social Security Means to My Family by Bruce Smith


Bruce Smith, 71 year old AARP member and activist from Woodbridge, Virginia


How has Social Security made a difference in your life?

My dad died when I was just fifteen. My mom, a former secretary, went back to school to brush up on her skills and then went to work at a private night school training secretaries. She later found a job training office workers for the federal government, but her income wouldn’t have been enough to pay for my college education.  However, I began receiving Social Security Survivors Benefits right away, ($27 a month, I believe), and my mom saved them for my college education. At that time, Social Security Survivors benefits lasted until the recipient was twenty-one years old, so my mother was able to use those payments from Social Security to offset much of my college expenses.  Those Social Security checks made all the difference in the world.


If you didn’t have Social Security, how would your life be different?

If I hadn’t received those Social Security Survivors benefits, I would not have been able to go to college. My older brother, a Navy pilot, was killed in training when I was seventeen, so I probably would have gone into the military after high school. Many others have found a way to succeed in life after going into the military, but I would have been screaming into the jaws of death at that point, and I doubt that I would have survived beyond my early twenties.  Social Security benefits allowed me to attend and finish college, and having that BA degree, (and later a master’s degree that I earned while working during the day) has meant all the difference in the world in my life as an adult and as a parent.


If your Social Security benefit were cut by 25% what would you have had to give up?

I would have had to give up going to college and go into the military or look for work in construction, an area I’d been working in since my dad died. I might never have found a job with a retirement plan (even union construction jobs I worked offered little if any plans for retirement).


If you didn’t have Social Security, would you be in poverty?

We might not be living in poverty, but we would not be living as comfortably as we do now.  Our house is paid for, so we can volunteer time to help others, participate in exercise for seniors, and advocate for others in our community.


If your Social Security were cut by 25% would you be in poverty? 

Maybe not, but we would have trouble paying bills and taking care of our grandchildren.


Share YOUR Social Security Story!

About AARP Virginia
Contact information and more from your state office. Learn what we are doing to champion social change and help you live your best life.