Once upon a time there was a woman who worked most of her life. She babysat at 12, worked summers starting at 14, got good grades in school while doing a work-study program, went to college and graduate school, held many jobs during school and held more after each graduation, and always did her best. One day she got sick. She was too sick to work. The government said they’d give her a small amount of money (after much fighting and pleading on her part.) Some people said she was lazy for not working harder, but she knew better. She was just too sick to work. Besides, all those years that she worked she paid into the fund that was now paying her. She worked on improving her health. One day she felt that she was ready to earn a small amount of money. She wondered what would happen if she ever wanted to earn her own living again. So she did the math….
I can accept that I might never be able to get off of benefits. I don’t like it, but I can accept it. My health has improved and stabilized to a point that I’m happy with. Yes, I would like to feel better, but if I never do, I can manage at this level. The thing is, that could be a problem financially. Thankfully, social security disability insurance (SSDI) allows recipients to earn up to a certain amount each month while keeping benefits. I believe right now that amount is $1050. If I could earn the maximum, I could get by. Barely.
But the truth is, I’d love to get off of benefits if I could. I have always been self sufficient, and I would like to return to that. I prided myself on my independence. On top of that, I have control issues. It’s no wonder, when the biggest thing in my life – my body – is so out of my control. I hate the idea of relying on the government for my income. As I mentioned the other day, some politicians have suggested cutting SSDI by 20%! I’d much rather control my own income and larger financial situation. Sure, a boss can always fire me, and working for myself is no guarantee, but it still feels safer. That’s how control issues work.
So I decided to do the math, just out of curiosity. It started slow: how many hours each month would I need to work in order to earn $1050? Well, at $10 per hour I’d have to work 100 hours. That’s 20 hours per week. Well, that’s not happening any time soon. But I could probably earn $20, so that’s 50 hours/month. Ok, that’s more like it. I might be able to manage that in another year or two. But I can earn more for some of my skills, like my financial work, so maybe I could average $30 per hour? Somewhere in there I’d lose a few of my benefits, like fuel assistance and food stamps, but I’d more than make up for that. I played around, and felt ok about the options.
Then I started doing the math on what it would take to get off of all of the benefits. And that’s where it all fell apart. First, I’d have to replace my SSDI income. Ok, that’s tough, but I might be able to manage that at some point. Then I’d have to pay for health insurance, since I’d have lost both Medicare and Medicaid when I started earning more money. Well that’s stretching it, but I could still manage. Maybe. Eventually. It felt tight, but doable, until I remembered: taxes! SSDI income isn’t taxable, and I doubt that $1050 per month would be taxed much, if anything. But at these new income levels, I’d have to pay taxes. When I add it all up, I figure I’d need to earn at least $4000 per month. At least. And that’s just to break even!
So I can earn $1050 per month while getting SSDI, or I could earn at least $4000 per month, and the two would be equivalent from a financial point of view. But one way I’d have time to take care of my health and the other way I wouldn’t. Realistically, I just can’t see working full time again health-wise. It would have to be part-time work. And as much as I want to get off of benefits, it doesn’t seem worth it if I’d be breaking even, so I’d need to earn more to make it worthwhile. And that puts me back at my old salary (which was just slightly over $4k/month.)
It would be nice if there was a gradient of some sort. Like, if I earned $1050 I’d get full SSDI, and if I earned $1200 I’d get $150 less than full SSDI. That would be a great way to transition. But as it stands, it’s all or none.
I’m not saying it’s impossible that it’ll ever happen, but it sure feels unlikely that I’d be able to earn my old full time salary while working part time.
If you’re on benefits, have you ever considered getting off of them? Have you tried? How do you feel about it? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.