It was welcome news to 68-year-old Harold
Henderson the thought of being able to work longer hours, earn
more money and best of all keep it.
"I might go get me a real job now," said Henderson, who works
as a janitor and bagger at a Winn-Dixie grocery store.
Henderson is among 800,000 Americans between the ages of 65 and
69 who are expected to benefit from the repeal of the Social
Security earnings limit. Under the cap, a senior citizen is
penalized $1 in benefits for every $3 earned over $17,000.
The House voted 422-0 Wednesday to send the Senate a bill doing
away with the Depression-era law originally passed to make more
jobs available for younger workers. Senate supporters promised
President Clinton said he would sign the bill into law as long
as it remains unencumbered by tax cuts or other changes he could
not accept and that have doomed several past repeal efforts.
"We should reward every American who wants to and can stay
active and productive," he said.
Henderson and his wife have seven children, two of them still at
home. He's been working up to 20 hours a week, limiting the number
of hours so his pay doesn't go over the $17,000 limit.
Henderson retired from long-haul trucking six years ago. He said
the difference in his paycheck between then and now is about $500
"I might go back to driving a truck," he said. "I would pay
off my house."
At a Winn-Dixie across the state in West Palm Beach, store
co-owner David Deems said several of his employees over 65 also
must limit their work hours to stay below the earnings limit.
Jack Bassett, 82, bags groceries and has no earnings cap because
he is over age 70. But he remembers the earnings limit.
"I had to watch how much I made and when I got almost to the
limit I would arrange with my employer to take a few months off,"
said Bassett, a former jeweler at Van Cleef and Arpels in Palm
Retailers, restaurants and other businesses are struggling with
a labor shortage and Congress is searching for something to offer
senior voters, especially with broader Medicare and Social Security
reforms less likely to pass.
"Why in the world would we want to discourage any American,
whether they're 17 or 67, from working?" asked Rep. Bill Archer,
R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
"Americans are living longer now, and older Americans can work,
they want to work and they shouldn't be punished by an outdated
The bill would leave in place a separate Social Security
earnings limit for people under age 65, which this year amounts to
a reduction of $1 in benefits for every $2 in earnings above
$10,080. There is no earnings limit for Social Security recipients
"This is a very important piece for our seniors," said Rep. E.
Clay Shaw, R-Fla. "We're not wasting time."
J.R. Sanders, a 67-year-old maintenance worker at a McDonald's
near Orlando, said he always hated that he was penalized if he
earned too much. He doesn't need the money, but he believes it
should be his to use as he pleases.
"The government didn't earn it, I did," he said.
Coworker Jon Morton, 66, said his situation is different.
"I have to work and I don't think the government has the right
to tell me how much I can earn," he said. "I'm glad Congress has