Dear Barb,

My son is almost 40 and I am so disappointed that he has not worked much in the past 15 years. He has had only short part-time jobs or under the table income from side jobs. He has many hobbies and ideas he is trying to turn into businesses but sadly keeps failing. He is not disabled and is smart but seems unmotivated to stick with any job and make a living. My husband and I have helped him often but he seems ungrateful most of the time. He has no savings, no IRA and his inheritance from us is not going to last him very long. If my son does not have a regular job year after year, he will not pay into social security from any paychecks. He will be poor now and poor later when he is old. How does social security calculate your work history and how much can you depend on from social security? 

A Disappointed Mom

Dear Mom,

I assure you that you share similar pain as other parents who are facing this very same dilemma. 

To qualify for Social Security benefits, you earn “credits” through your work – up to four each year. This year, for example, you earn one credit for each $1,320 of wages or self-employment income. When you’ve earned $5,280, you’ve earned your four credits for the year. Working “under the table” does not accrue any credits for social security however. 

Most people need 40 credits, earned over their working lifetime. This would require an average of at least 10 years of being gainfully employed, and social security being deducted from your son’s paychecks before retirement age. For disability and survivor’s benefits and young people, they need fewer credits to be eligible.

If your son has not earned enough yet to qualify for any type of benefit, social security can’t give him a benefit estimate. If he works and continues to work, they will give him an estimate when he does qualify. Once he has enough work credits, they estimate his benefit amounts using his average earnings over his working lifetime. He can go online once he qualifies. You get nothing if you don’t meet the 40-credit requirement. 

This is a troubling state of affairs that is all too common. It’s still low-profile as looming catastrophes go, not widely discussed in the media or over our kitchen tables. It’s going to take years’ worth of stories on the evening news, showing the plight of these retirees running out of money before anyone will take notice. What will they do! 

I have always counseled my clients who have difficulty with teenagers that the two most important characteristics that you can instill in your children is ambition and gratefulness. Both will get you everywhere in life!

Ambition creates a drive, an unstoppable sense of determination. 

By encouraging your son’s passions and interests that may lead to a career or a field of work is wonderful, however if your son’s hobbies or passions cannot generate a paycheck, serious consideration for wage earning should start now. While he is working and earning a living he certainly can entertain any make-believe idea of generating enough revenue to turn a hobby into enough to survive on without needing a supplemental job. The best inventions and ideas have been in the evening or weekends cultivating a hobby into a big paycheck. But there is a risk factor and consequences to calculate. 

There is an appropriate saying “necessity is the inventor of ambition”. Some just don’t possess this ambition naturally if it is doing something that they dislike, such as working an uninteresting or dirty or hard job. It’s amazing how quickly they can muster up some ambition when they are weary of just getting by or are really in a bind. 

Gratefulness can be demonstrated by example. Gratitude strengthens relationships. We notice how someone supports us or is valuable to us. That sense of appreciation extends from both parent to child and child to parent, creating a richly respectful and trusting relationship that flourishes. You are both on the same team. When a parent notices all the qualities in their child with gratefulness, no matter how old, it makes the child work to live up to the parent’s expectations. It’s human nature thing. Have you ever observed someone’s grateful eyes light up after you do something special for them? It literally makes you want to do more for them! 

Just getting by may be working for your son momentarily. You as a parent should not be doing ANYTHING that would be endorsing the lack of employment. It is an inevitable obligation for your son to accept and stay employed. It’s not too late.

Our job as parents is to “prepare our child for the bumpy road, not smooth out the bumpy road for our child”.

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor for the House of Matthew Homeward Bound program in Tacoma, and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at

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