By Steve Rosen
Tribune Media Services
Some aspects of summer life never change: soaking up the sun, sipping ice cold lemonade, and listening to our kids complain about not making enough money from their part-time job.
Know how to give them a quick comeuppance on the money whine? Show them how much you made during your summer job years.
Fuzzy on the details? No problem -- it's printed in a handy document that the Social Security Administration mails to you every year before your birthday, starting at age 25.
The Social Security benefits statement includes your estimated Social Security and Medicare benefits upon retirement and your earnings history -- starting with the first year you actually received a wage and a W-2 statement from the grocery store, fast-food restaurant or landscaping service that hired you for the summer.
My 2010 statement arrived in mid-July, and it's always an eye-opener. It reminded me that I earned about $400 in the summer of 1970, sacking groceries for minimum wage. Next summer, same job, same store, except my paycheck totaled $694. The following year, I made a hundred dollars less.
The report also displays one big fat zero from the unemployed summer of 1973.
Painful reminders aside, the Social Security benefits statement is an excellent tool for teaching youngsters about working for a wage, paying taxes and getting something back from the government.
You don't need a degree in macroeconomics to talk about these issues. Instead, share stories about the people you worked with, the grunt work you had to perform, and the perks (yeah, there probably were one or two).
You can use the benefit statement as an aid if you ramp up the discussions. For example, if your son or daughter picks up news about the troubles besetting Social Security or Medicare, this might be the ideal time to show them how much money you expect to receive from those programs down the road and whether they'll be any money for their generation.
Or have a family discussion about how men and women often earn wildly different salaries, even if it's the same line of work. The earnings history of you and your spouse could be a starting point in explaining pay scales, career paths and the salary injustices in the workplace.
Granted, this can create a bit of a sticky wicket, since you may not want to share with your 12-year-old how much you're pulling down at the office. In that case, you may need to tailor these conversations to, say, an explanation of the difference between "gross" and "net" income.
Whatever the approach, one of the biggest lessons I've learned when talking to youngsters of all ages is don't underestimate their intelligence. Kids' minds are like sponges. They can soak up the information if we can communicate it to them and make it relatable.
Something to think about when your Social Security statement arrives in the mail.
(Questions, comments, column ideas? Send an e-mail to srosen(AT)kcstar.com or write to him at The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.)
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