A reader writes:

I read yesterday's comments about opting out of social security;  I understand why this may be an extremely appealing option for those below a certain threshold age, but I hope you can understand why there are many who have reached an age and have contributed for sufficient years that your solution is not so appealing.  My own experience may help illustrate this point.

I am a 57 year old male who has been self-employed for quite a while. I have worked very hard and done reasonably well over the years, and I have never been without at least one job, with usually two or more sources of income.  I work in the high end niche of the consumer electronics industry, which has been among the most hard-hit of industry segments over the past 6 years.  When this natural downturn was combined with recent economic slowdown, the results have been devastating.

I have seen drastic reductions in my business earnings over the course of the past couple of years, which has in turn forced me to use my savings for daily living for a total of the last 6 years, despite what had been a fairly reasonable nest egg some years back. I now have depleted my nest egg and am making ends meet from month to month.   

I am working harder than ever before (currently contracting with four different manufacturers for commission income, and spending on average 12-14 hours of working hours for at least six days each week), but my irregular income means that I am always "robbing peter to pay paul."  I have contributed faithfully to social security since I was 16 years old, and because of my recent experience, I am surprised and saddened to acknowledge that social security is now my only retirement fund. I don't blame anybody else for my situation, but I have to honestly say it will be extraordinarily difficult for me if my social security savings are not available for me a few years from now. I simply don't have another mechanism for saving at this point.

I have a good education (Masters Degree from Yale) and have been active in sales distribution in a total of 59 countries where I have traveled and made very good contacts over the years,  but many different efforts and inquiries have proven that my education and experience are not really helpful for job seeking at my age----my experience and focus has been in too narrow a niche market for most companies to find interesting and useful.  Nobody (except perhaps MacDonalds)  will hire a 57 year old, so I remain convinced that my self-employment with social security at the end is my only option.  I believe that somebody (probably Mr. Roosevelt) was sufficiently smart to know that there would always be folks like me, and they wanted to create a formal system that understood how there are some things that cannot be predicted or known, even among folks who are reasonably smart and work very hard.  The social security solution only works, however, if everybody (regardless of need or means) is able to contribute through a lifetime of earning, despite his or her confidence in finding better savings mechanisms for their individual retirement.   I am not smart enough to have predicted my situation, and I would have sworn that it was not possible as recently as 8 years ago, when I was a youngster of 49.   I am amazed and awed by the wisdom of those who created this system that I never expected I would need, other than as a minimal supplement to my retirement nest egg.   Perhaps I am missing something, as  you seem to think otherwise.

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