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10% of income here from Social Security

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

From staff reports

Marshall County residents are more dependent on three kinds of Social Security checks than residents in other counties across the United States. The checks are for disability, survivor benefits and old age pensions.

That stunning statistic comes from the Daily Yonder, an online publication which recently reported that if the residents here did not receive those monthly government checks from the Social Security Administration, then 9.9 percent, nearly one-tenth of total personal income in the county, would be lost.

"It's sad," a county woman said when told of the statistics because she's a recipient. "It's almost looks hopeless for Marshall County to get back on its feet."

She is not named because, while she receives "just over $700" for her disability, part of the circumstances that led to what she faces now are a result of her being raped in another county.

The actual dollar amount - that 9.9 percent of all county residents' income - is nearly $77 million, according to the report by Bill Bishop and Robert Gallardo, news writers for the online report supported by the Center for Rural Strategies. Daily Yonder editor Tim Marema of Knoxville, Bishop and Gallardo said basic 2009 data for the report came from the federal Bureau for Economic Analysis and the Social Security Administration.

Nationally, 5.5 percent of the total personal income in 2009 came from Social Security payments for disability, survivor benefits and an old age pension. Statewide, 7.1 percent of all income is from such Social Security payments.

In Marshall County, 6,030 people received disability, survivor benefits or an old age pension during 2009 and that head count is compared to a population of 30,617, according to the Daily Yonder report.

"In many rural places, Social Security is a very critical element of the total economic base," the Yonder reports, quoting Professor Peter Nelson, a geographer at Middlebury College in Vermont. "It's less important to a place like Los Angeles because there is so much additional economic activity going on there."

Total Social Security payments in Marshall County amounted to $2,542 per person in 2009, the Yonder reported. The national average was $2,199 per person. It was $2,458 across the state.

Social Security income is more important to a small rural county, the online publication reports, because recipients are more likely to spend it locally.

The woman speaking to the Tribune about her circumstances started receiving a check in 1996, when she was living in Nashville and had to give up her job as an administrative assistant at a hospital's psychiatric clinic. Her "original disability was from severe depression." She's held other jobs, but does not work now.

She also receives $122 worth of food stamps a month, so her government assistance is about $825 monthly, she said. She can live on that because she doesn't have many bills, "and because I don't buy all the medicines I'm supposed to be taking." Her rent is low. She doesn't have government rent vouchers.

Her doctor was in Franklin, so she moved to be closer to him but couldn't afford to live in Williamson County. She found living quarters here nearly a decade ago. She likes Marshall County because of the rural lifestyle.

She says her "faith in God is a reason" for her continued struggle to overcome emotional and financial challenges.

Changes to Social Security are being discussed in Congress, which is looking for ways to balance the federal budget and the Yonder quotes Nelson, the Middlebury College geographer, as saying cuts to that program would have a bigger effect on rural areas because "They are more dependent on Social Security."