Many years ago, if one wanted to join the Odd Fellows, one had to show many traits: first, of course, one had to be male; even further one had to be a white male; one had to profess one’s religious preference; and lastly, an aspect fewer members know, one had to be gainfully employed or own one’s own business. Yet, curiously, our order was much more populous at that time than it is now. Of course, the world at large has changed. Racism, Sexism, Religious Bigotry are no longer accepted practices by rational individuals. But, what about the last point, the part about being gainfully employed? What caused that to change? We often attribute the diminishing of all fraternal groups to a few factors, specifically; radio, television and other electronic media, more established communities with better security for its population, and more modern ways to occupy oneself in a diminishing space for relaxation, but there is another one we rarely discuss. Namely, Social Security.
Because the age of our average member has increased, to over 70 years of age, almost all our members now receive Social Security. It is so important to the aged, that in politics, it is known as the “Third Rail” of debate, in other words, undebatable, unassailable, intrinsic to retirement of 90% of all American citizens. What this tells you, then, is several factors: first, that most people live receiving a fixed income, second, that living on a fixed income forces one to realize that one must live paying what is hopefully a fixed expense, and lastly, that the correlation between one’s income and one’s expense must have a correlation that is positive to that person’s retirement.
Thanks to Social Security and other government programs such as disability insurance, unemployment compensation, and more, our citizens enjoy a safety net to some extent. Inadequate, to be sure, but it is a net that did not exist 100 years ago when our order was larger. One of the well-known reasons our order was so big at that time, was that the ordinary lodge, particularly, lodges that resided in hard and challenging areas such as gold country, were the sustenance in almost the entirety of a member’s existence, not only did it educate them (many lodges had lending libraries), feed them (many also served daily breakfasts), offer security (most prominent citizens were members), house many of the children (Rebekah Children’s Services was originally an orphanage), and bury them (bury the dead). The times have made fraternal groups less central to people’s lives. We have some lodges, that I feel are on the precipice of closure (after being open for over 150 years) mainly because they now do nothing whatsoever for their members. Even the IRS with their description of fraternal groups would agree that lodges that now do nothing whatsoever for their members have ceased to be functioning fraternal groups. Conversely, it can be easily illustrated that a member who once benefited from a lodge setting in one way or another, and now gets nothing for being a member, and lives on a fixed income sees nothing but expense in being a member that now shows that member nothing but contempt.
Lastly, as if to plunge the knife in to the hilt, our order in its wisdom has decided to request more dues from its members who live on fixed incomes. I have spoken to some affluent members who say, what is $5.00 per year? Sure, it does not seem like much, at first, but SGL is looking for a $5.00 increase yearly for five years for both the Odd Fellows and the Rebekahs, so that figuring many belong to both, in five years, this would be a $50 increase yearly, and for what, exactly? What benefit does a member receive for being a member, when sustenance, security, burial, education, and even the modicum of care recedes from one’s view? In the normal world, when one is offered something one must question what benefit will I personally receive? If we have failed to even answer this simple question, our order is surely not going to last much longer.
In Friendship, Love, and Truth, Rick Boyles