When an 89-year-old pizza delivery man was tipped $12,000 by a stranger on TikTok, it was framed as a heartwarming story.
Derlin Newey had taken up a 30-hour week working as a pizza delivery man in Utah, and gained some loyal customers – and one family happened to have a pretty big TikTok following. The Valdez family loved Newey’s chatty nature and signature catchphrase – “Hello, are you looking for some pizza?” – so much that they began requesting him specifically whenever they placed an order.
The family would upload their interactions with him to the platform, and although Newey does not understand TikTok (in one recording he asks, “So all your people on the internet know me? From driving pizza?”), he quickly rose to TikTok semi-stardom.
But when the Valdez family’s followers started asking why a man of his age was still delivering pizzas, they got an unsavory answer: Derlin’s social security payment wasn’t enough to cover his bills.
So the Valdez family asked their followers to make a donation to help Newey, and the money started rolling in. Eventually, a total tip of $12,069 was delivered to Newey’s house. Newey responded, in tears: “How do I ever say thank you? I don’t know what to say.”
The story was picked up by local news in Salt Lake City, and eventually made it to platforms like CNN. People called it proof of the humanity that exists in the US, a great story of how wonderful some Americans are, and said it showed how people will sacrifice a little to help a lot.
But some had another question: what sort of social security net forces an 89-year-old man to have to run around delivering pizza in his old age just so he can make rent? Newey can’t be the only one: Americans who are his age and make the average US yearly income of $35,977, can expect to receive about $1,579 a month in social security payments; barely enough to make the average rent – or roughly the same amount as what Donald Trump pays in taxes across two years.