Speech Upon Signing the Social Security Act

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Speech upon Signing the Social Security Act

Speech

By: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Date: August 14, 1935

Source: Roosevelt, Franklin. "Speech upon Signing the Social Security Act." American Rhetoric. <http://www. americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fdrsocialsecurityact.h tm> (accessed May 30, 2006).

About the Author: Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) served as the thirty-second president of the United States. He tackled the Great Depression of the 1930s by offering the New Deal and became the only president to be re-elected three times. He also led the United States through World War II.

INTRODUCTION

Responding to growing pressures to modify the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a major announcement in his 1935 State of the Union address. Roosevelt declared that the government would now focus more on people than on business. The New Deal would target underconsumption rather than low production and low profits. Accordingly, he proposed an old-age program to put money in the pockets of the elderly. It became the Social Security Act.

Social Security reflected the financial conservatism of Roosevelt. It was the only social security system ever established that was self-funding. It was paid for not from general tax revenues, but from a trust fund paid into by workers and their employers. Furthermore, Social Security protected the economy from the inflation that had badly damaged European economies. It was a deflationary measure that took money out of the still-depressed economy and did not return any of it for five years.

Many aspects of Social Security drew the rage of critics. While most Americans supported the bill, many economists predicted that the payroll tax would deepen the Depression by taking money from the marketplace at a time when increased consumer spending was seen as the primary factor needed to stimulate the economy. Another problem with Social Security involved its regressive nature. A uniform payroll tax resulted in lower-income workers paying a higher percentage of their wages in taxes than those who received higher salaries. Lastly, conservative critics objected to the expansion of government and the creation of a government safety net that seemed like the first step toward Socialism. Roosevelt ignored these critics and signed the bill into law.

PRIMARY SOURCE

Today, a hope of many years' standing is in large part fulfilled.

The civilization of the past hundred years, with its startling industrial changes, had tended more and more to make life insecure.

Young people have come to wonder what will be their lot when they came to old age.

The 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 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.

This law, too, represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete. It is a structure intended to lessen the force of possible future depressions. It will act as a protection to future administrations against the necessity of going deeply into debt to furnish relief to the needy. The law will flatten out the peaks and valleys of deflation and of inflation. It is, in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.

I congratulate all of you ladies and gentlemen, all of you in the Congress, in the executive departments and all of you who come from private life, and I thank you for your splendid efforts in behalf of this sound, needed and patriotic legislation.

It seems to me that if the Senate and the House of Representatives, in this long and arduous session, had done nothing more than pass this security Bill, Social Security Act, the session would be regarded as historic for all time.

SIGNIFICANCE

Compared to social insurance programs put into effect by European nations that were not as wealthy as the United States, the American plan seemed skimpy. Initially, it excluded millions of workers employed in agriculture, in domestic service, and in many categories of industrial employment. These restrictions especially hurt women and African Americans, the majority of domestic and agricultural workers. The self-employed also were locked out of the system.

Gradually, Social Security expanded to cover all Americans. Beginning in the 1950s, amendments extended Social Security coverage to previously excluded workers. The addition of disability insurance in 1954, along with a more progressive benefit formula, proved especially helpful to non-white and lower-income workers. Major court decisions in the 1970s overruled the gender biases in survivors' and spousal benefits. Especially important to Social Security's anti-poverty objectives, the 1972 adoption of automatic cost of living allowances has provided crucial protection against inflation.

However, since the 1980s, the future of Social Security has been hotly debated in the halls of government, in newspapers, and on main streets across the nation. There are serious concerns about the program's ability to meet future benefit obligations in the wake of the retirement of the massive baby boom population. Ideological opponents of big government have also attacked the program as being outside of the proper duties of government. A number of plans have been proposed to address the looming financial crisis in the Social Security system. Most include either tax increases, benefit cuts, the implementation of personal retirement savings accounts, or a combination of these measures.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Hoskins, Dalmer, Donate Dubbernack, and Christiane Kuptsch, eds. Social Security at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 2001.

Lubove, Roy. The Struggle for Social Security, 1900–1935. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968.

Myles, John. Old Age in the Welfare State: The Political Economy of Public Pensions. Boston: Little Brown, 1984.

Web sites

Social Security Administration. "Social Security Online History Pages." May 1, 2006. <http://www.ssa.gov/history/> (accessed May 17, 2006).