On This Day

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Associated Press
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Bill in Washington, Aug. 14, 1935.

On This Day: Social Security Act Signed Into Law

August 14, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Aug. 14, 1935, President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, creating one of the most significant government programs in American history.

Social Security Is Born

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933 and immediately began to implement a series of economic reforms, collectively known as the New Deal, designed to lift America out of the Great Depression. The New Deal greatly increased the involvement of the federal government in economic issues and offered financial protection to many Americans in need of assistance.

One demographic in need of assistance was the elderly. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “5,000,000 old people in the early 1930s joined nationwide Townsend clubs, promoted by Francis E. Townsend to support his program demanding a $200 monthly pension for everyone over the age of 60.”

In June 1934, Roosevelt announced to Congress his intentions to create what would become the Social Security program. He formed the Committee on Economic Security (CES), composed of a group of experts from various agencies, to analyze the issue of economic security in America.

The reports was completed in January 1935 and presented to Congress with the Economic Security Bill, later to be renamed the Social Security Act. The bill was debated in the spring and was passed in the House and Senate by overwhelming margins.

On Aug. 14, 1935, Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. Upon signing the bill, he stated, “We can never insure 100 percent of the population against 100 percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-stricken old age.”

The act provided “a wide range of programs to meet the nation’s needs,” according to the U.S. Social Security Administration. “In addition to the program we now think of as Social Security, it included unemployment insurance, old-age assistance, aid to dependent children and grants to the states to provide various forms of medical care.”

Later Developments: Changes to Social Security

The Social Security Act has been amended a number of times in order to keep up with new concerns and changing times. The first amendments, coming just four years after Social Security was established, extended benefit support to the dependents of retired or deceased workers. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson created Medicare, a program that provided medical cost and hospital insurance to the elderly.

Analysis: Future of Social Security

For over 70 years, the sick, disabled, and elderly have been able to receive government support, paid for by a fraction of the working population’s taxes. However, the future of Social Security is uncertain, as many economists and politicians warning that the system will implode.

“When the Social Security program was created in 1935, a 65-year-old American had an average life expectancy of about 12 1/2 more years; today, it is 18 years and rising,” explains the U.S. Social Security Administration.

The system will also be burdened by the large number of baby boomers retiring between now and 2025. Because later generations are not as populous, the amount of taxable income will decrease.

The number of people whose wages are taxed to pay for Social Security benefits may decrease, but if history is any indication the rate at which those wages are taxed will continue rising. When the Social Security tax was instituted, the tax rate was 1 percent of each employee’s income. Today that tax rate stands at 15.3 percent.

Historical Context: The Great Depression

The Great Depression began with the crash of the stock market in 1929, and was furthered by banking panics, depleted gold reserves, and the worst drought in American history in the 1930s. This period of economic downturn lasted approximately 10 years and resulted in a 47-percent decrease in industrial production, a 30-percent decrease in gross domestic product, and unemployment soaring to 20 percent.

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