Archive for Thursday, August 20, 2009

Social Security nears the three-quarters-of-a-century mark

August 20, 2009

People down through history had uncertainties brought on by unemployment, illness, disability, death and old age. The Greeks used a form of economic security by storing olive oil, which was nutritious and could be kept for years. In medieval Europe, security depended on the number of surfs the feudal lords had working on his estate. In 1601 when the colonists came to this country, they brought with them what was called “the poor laws” from England. This is where the phrase “the poor house” originates. In 1795 Thomas Payne established a public system of economic security for the new nation. He published a great pamphlet entitled “Agrarian Justice.”

After the Civil War, widows and orphans received a pension for deceased family members. This started in 1862 By 1910 Civil War Veterans and survivors enjoyed a program of disability benefits and old-age benefits that were similar in some ways to the later Social Security programs.

In 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt made a speech before the Progressive Party, he made a strong statement on behalf of social insurance to protect the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age. This planted the seeds for Social Security as we know it today. From 1900 to 1930, the life span of Americans increased by ten years and also became more urban and industrial and fewer people lived on the land or in extended families.

On. Oct. 24, 1929, America slipped into an economic depression. The unemployment rate exceeded more than 25 percent and about 10,000 banks failed. Huey Long was the governor of Louisiana and was elected to the U.S Senate in 1930. He was a radical populist. He wanted the government to confiscate the wealth of the nation’s rich and privileged. He called his program “share our wealth.” During that period there were several state-run pension plans but they were not a success because most hard-working people thought it was like welfare and did not want to take part in it.

Herbert Hoover had a distinguished career before becoming president. He made a name for himself doing international relief before and after World War I. He helped feed millions of starving people, through the efforts of voluntary partnerships of government, business and private giving. When he became president those voluntary efforts failed because of the Great Depression. With the election of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and the introduction of his economic security proposal based on social insurance rather than welfare assistance, this led to everyone accepting it because they were putting their own money into the program. I got my Social Security card at age 13, in 1941 with the help of Hazel Wendel, when I worked at Wendel’s Garage. I have carried that card for 68 years and had no idea then that monthly payments began only a year before I got my Social Security number.

The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Aug. 14, 1935, 74 years ago this week. The monthly payments started in 1940.

Much of this information came from Social Security Online.


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