BCN-inner-hdr1a

Text Size: A A A

This Week in History: Social Security Act Signed into Law


It was in June 1934 as part of his New Deal that President Franklin D. Roosevelt created by executive order a Committee for Economic Security (CES) which was to study the issue of economic instability and make recommendations upon those findings. Six months later the committee submitted its report and it was introduced to the house and senate for approval. Although there was some opposition from certain quarters who felt it was a case of governmental intrusion the bill was approved by both chambers and on August 14, 1935 the president signed into law the Social Security Act.

In its original form the Act provided a federally funded system of benefits to old-age workers (those 65 years and older); aid for dependent mothers and children; unemployment insurance; and benefits to those who had suffered injuries in industrial accidents. Those with disabilities would have to wait until 1956 for their own provision, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) would only surface in 1974.

To pay for the funds taxes would have to be collected. That began in 1937 as did the logistical challenge of providing the country with Social Security cards. In the first three years of the new program beneficiaries received lump sum payments and it was only in 1940 that monthly income was instituted.

How much could one expect to receive? In the days of lump sum payments certain mildly insured beneficiaries collected as little as a nickel but by 1940 the minimum monthly payment was $10. As mandated in the Act the maximum anyone could receive was the princely figure of $85 a month. In 2019 terms that equates to about $1,540 a month which suffers in comparison to the $3,770 maximum this year for a 70 year old retiree. It should be noted that back in 1940 the average annual salary for men was $1,900 and minimum wage was $0.30 an hour. A decent house at the dawn of the 40s would set you back $6,500. While Britain stood alone against the Nazi oppression sweeping through Western Europe Americans were paying 18 cents a gallon in gas and driving their brand new $850 cars to the supermarket to pick up their 8 cent loaves of bread and 52 cent gallons of milk.

Much has changed since those nascent days of Social Security but it is some relief that it remains and has expanded its purview as the years go by. Funding challenges grow: in 1940 the male life expectancy stood at 60.8 years and women could expect to live until 65.2. In 2019 those figures stand at 76.1 and 80.1 respectively.