The last time I was stuck for an answer on how to describe something was when my then-five-year-old daughter asked me to describe exactly what a platypus was and how it compares with other animals.
I felt like the Jeopardy contestant whose slate - not to mention face -- goes blank when host Alex Trebek ominously asks the final Jeopardy question and allows approximately a half-minute to answer it correctly. I also wonder how contestants are able to concentrate in spite of the most annoying background music in television history.
But I digress.
After watching the evening news one evening the same youngster asked me what Social Security was and why the president and a lot of other "important-looking people" were talking a lot about it lately.
Curious little thing, isn't she?
I almost immediately wanted to resurrect the conversation about the platypus because I probably would have a more lucid answer.
"Well, for a lot of people it represents the money they will live on after they stop working," I told her. "Sort of a pension plan."
"Do you have a pension plan?"
"Well, kind of. It's called a 401(k). I invest a certain percentage of my salary in the program and hopefully when I retire there will be a lot there."
"How come you don't get Social Security?"
"Because I'm not old enough to start receiving benefits."
"But I heard you and mommy complaining about getting the heck taxed out of your checks and something about paying into Social Security all these years but not getting it when you retire. So I'm confused. Is it a tax like the extra $8 I had to pay when I bought my iPod or is it money you're gonna get when you retire?
"Um, well, uh."
"Well why are they talking about it so much?"
"Because the president wants to overhaul the program by establishing personal accounts."
"Like a bank account?"
"Well not exactly. These accounts would be invested in stocks and mutual funds. In theory that would earn a higher interest rate than where the money is now."
"But what happens if the money goes into something like that stock you bought in the computer company that really liked books?"
"Yeah. Remember you said the company was now reading Chapter 11."
"Oh that. Well then it wouldn't be too good."
"So then why do they want to change it?"
"Because the system is in a bit of trouble and it eventually would not be able to help the people it was designed to help."
"So why are you and mom paying for a program that has problems that will only get worse and might not be able to help you when you quit working?
"Hey sweetheart, whaddya say we see what's on television?"
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