Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 14, 2011

Ida May Fuller and her government check

August 14, 1935: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act. Roosevelt thus became the first president to advocate federal assistance for American senior citizens. The law was passed as part of the New Deal package and was intended to limit some of the dangers of modern American life. The Act provided benefits to retirees and the unemployed as well as a lump-sum benefit at death.

Initially greatly opposed, the Act was seen as a danger to employment. Those in favor of the bill claimed it would help employment by encouraging older workers to retire leaving jobs for the younger adults. Many jobs were not initially covered, mostly those held by women. Agricultural, domestic service, and government employees were not covered. Many teachers, nurses, hospital employees, librarians, and social workers were also not covered. People who only worked intermittently were not covered which left out both women and minority workers. Exclusions covered nearly half of those working.

Ida May Fuller was the first American to receive a Social Security check. Her check was written for $22.54 and came in the mail on January 31, 1940. The Vermont woman had worked as a legal secretary. She retired in 1939 and had paid in to Social Security for three years with a  total of $24.75 paid into the system over those years. She lived to be 100 years old and collected $22,888.92 in benefits.

The role of the program kept changing and was modified many times over the years. Nearly each decade has seen some changes to the laws. Taxes are collected with each paycheck. The amount of monthly benefit depends on the wage-earner’s salary and age at retirement. Since its inception, benefits have been paid out using the monies that have come in. By 2017, by some accounts, this will no longer be possible and benefits will be paid from the Social Security Trust Fund. However, this fund’s assets are special Treasury bonds, that is, the money isn’t really there and has been lent out to the government for other projects and spending. It has been calculated that this Trust is underfunded by $15.1 trillion.

“Social Security … is not a dole or a device for giving everybody something for nothing. True Social Security must consist of rights which are earned rights – guaranteed by the law of the land.” – Harry S. Truman

“The Social Security program plays an important part in providing for families, children, and older persons in times of stress. But it cannot remain static. Changes in our population, in our working habits, and in our standard of living require constant revision.” – John F. Kennedy

“I have today signed [legislation which] … constitutes a major breakthrough for older Americans, for it says at last that inflation-proof Social Security benefits are theirs as a matter of right …” – Richard M. Nixon

“Social Security … reflects some of our deepest values – the duties we owe to our parents, the duties we owe to each other when we’re differently situated in life, the duties we owe to our children and our grandchildren. Indeed, it reflects our determination to move forward across generations and across the income divides in our country, as one America.” – William J. Clinton

Also on this day:
Literally – In 1457, the first exactly dated book is published.
Burn, Baby, Burn – In 1933, Oregon was plagued by wild fires.

2 Responses

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  1. David Dean said, on August 14, 2011 at 11:11 am

    A nice little article, well researched

    • patriciahysell said, on August 16, 2011 at 8:52 am

      Thanks. It is sometimes difficult to get such large concepts into such a small space. I try to cover the entire picture, but know I must leave some gaps, hopefully without altering the story. At least that is my goal.

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