Sunday, August 14, 2005

Happy Birthday Social Security!

70 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said at the signing of the Social Security Act of 1935:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing into law
the Social Security Act of 1935.

“Today a hope of many years standing is in large part fulfilled. The civilization of the past hundred years, with its startling industrial changes has tempted more and more to make life insecure. Young people have come to wonder what’ll be their lot when they came to old age. A man with a job has wondered how long the job would last. This Social Security measure gives at least some protection to 50 millions of our citizens who will reap direct benefits through unemployment compensation, through old age pensions, and through increased services for the protection of children, and the prevention of ill health. We can never insure 100% of the population against 100% 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. It seems to me that if the Senate and the House of Representatives in this long and arduous session have done nothing more than pass this security bill, Social Security Act, the session would be regarded as historic for all time.”

That bill indeed became historic, and it passed with stiff Republican opposition. On April 18th, 1935 Allen Towner Treadway (R-MA) offered an amendment to strike the section of the Social Security Act that created the “old age benefits provision”, and the revenue system, articles 2 and 8, respectively. Treadway, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means committee, saw his amendment go down in a 49-125 vote, but vowed to oppose Social Security at “every opportunity.” During the Treadway amendment, Thomas A. Jenkins called the proposed Social Security Act “compulsion of the rankest kind.”

Some wiser republicans followed them years later, most notably, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Writing in a letter to his brother Edgar on November 8th, 1954, Eisenhower said:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

And Eisenhower knew exactly why “they are stupid”. In 1950, 48% of America’s senior citizens lived below the poverty line. Today only 8% do. That’s because two thirds of retired Americans get the majority of their income from Social Security, and a third of retired Americans get virtually all their income from Social Security.

So here’s to the most efficient poverty-reduction government program in US history. Happy Birthday Social Security!


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