Special Report: Point of no Return$ - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Point of no Return$

Albany- Hazel Hention Rogers teaches Coordinated Vocational Academic Education at Dougherty High school, a class with a complicated name, but a simple purpose, teaching necessary life skills.

"Stuff that you're learning in here is going to be stuff that you have to use," she tells them.

During a visit to her class we listened to her teach about banking, finances, and for a brief moment social security.

"How do we prepare them? How do we tell them about social security if it's not even sure that it's going to be there," she says.

So, Rogers does her best trying to get her students to understand the benefits of social security, even though she feels it's a system that's failed her.

"The way it is now I will never be able to reap any of the benefits from his social security."

Hazel's happily remarried now but six years ago she lost her first husband Bobby Hention.

"We were waiting for a transplant," says.

Her husband was just 57, too young to retire and reap any of the benefits of he'd paid into social security for nearly four decades of his life.

"You spend your whole life working and nobody will ever be able to reap the benefits. He and I had this life together and we shared paying into it."

Social security does allow survivors to benefit from what their spouses have paid into the system, but like Hazel if they don't have children, they'll have to wait until age 60. And if they remarry before then those benefits are no longer available to surviving spouses. Sadly, it's a story that's not uncommon.

"We've got a 33% mortality rate of African American males between the ages of 50 and 70, so when you look at that, there's some concern," says Dr. Joshua Murfree, director of the Center for the African-American Male at Albany State University.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics the life expectancy for black men is 68. Dr. Murfree says future studies will point to an even younger life expectancy, one that's nearly a decade shy of full retirement age which begins at 65.

"So we've dumped a lot of money into the system that we don't have a great return on," Murfree says.

he believes the solution may be to change the way the system determines when you can draw from your account.

"Social security needs to look at another way of addressing this. Can I get my dollars early on to invest those dollars versus actually waiting until that time? I think that would even help generate funds in the US if we would find another avenue of using social security benefits prior to retirement age," Murfree says.

Making any changes to the nation's social security system would likely take an act of congress and several years to complete. Still, health experts say there are things black men can do right now to decrease their changes of dying before they reach the age of 65.

"A lot of times what happens with men is when they come to the health system it's almost too late," says Darrell Sabbs of Phoebe Putney.

For years Darrell Sabbs has educated men about the importance of prevention and early detection. He says the top killers of men in the state are cardiovascular disease and cancer, things that can be treated if caught early enough.

"Sometimes there's a fear of the health system, a fear of being told what you might not want to hear," says Sabbs.

But just as Hazel takes care of her students, she took care of her husband. She made sure he went to the doctor. Unfortunately, when he died she was left with many of the medical bills.

"If the system had been possibly rearranged I could have gotten something to help out with the situation, especially right after death," she says.

Instead of dwelling on the past, she focuses on the future, growing old with her new husband, and warning the next generation of retirees about a system that she says isn't serving all Americans.

Social security is the only source of retirement income for 40 percent of elderly African Americans.

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