Social Security has proven its worth


Eighty-five years ago, the U.S. was in the depths of the Great Depression. Few people alive today are old enough to remember it. We’ve heard from rural families who survived it that since the 20s were not really uproarious out here, there was not much difference when the 30s came in. Stories from the big cities describe people begging in the street. Young businessmen who had no influence to hire anyone accosted by jobless men begging to sweep floors or work at really anything in their companies.

President Franklin Roosevelt was in his third year of office, and he had launched many of his New Deal programs to try to get people back to work: the WPA which resulted in many of our municipal parks and public buildings was one. Another was Social Security, signed August 14, 1935.

Social Security was called a socialist scheme by its critics. The thought of all the people of the nation pooling pennies from their paycheck to give older Americans at least a floor under which they wouldn’t fall when they grew too old to work felt like forced charity.

The Social Security retirement age was set at 65. In 1935, average life expectancy was 58 for men and 62 for women. But this factored in the high infant and child mortality rate at the time. Influenza, polio, and rubella were real threats to children born in the 1930s. Almost 54% of them could expect to live to age 65 if they survived to age 21, and men who attained age 65 could expect to collect Social Security benefits for almost 13 years (and the numbers are even higher for women).

Before Social Security, an American could work for years but in old age be tossed into the street with nothing to show for it. At the point Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, the unemployment rate for older Americans was about 50%.

Critics called the idea of a national pension plan socialist, but over the years it has given hope and economic dignity to older people, those with disabilities, and their spouses and surviving children.

Social Security has transformed the prospect of disability or old age for millions of Americans. It’s socialist in the sense that a portion of everyone’s hard work benefits the whole, and comes back to you and to me as individuals.

It’s capitalist in that more people are afforded buying power in our enviable free market.

Each one of us knows someone who has benefited from social security. In all the noise of the upcoming election cycle, we hope our officials will be mindful of the fact that it is our money invested and not the government’s to redirect.


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