Many older Americans depend on the Social Security Act. In the present day, over 58 million citizens take advantage of its benefits. When the law was was first proposed, it was very controversial, and faced accusations of being a "socialist" policy. Today it is an uncontroversial program which seems invulnerable to the political fluctuations of the times.
How It All Began
Along with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the "Economic Security Bill" was written to combat the crippling after-effects of the Great Depression. It had three major components: public assistance for the needy; unemployment relief; and elder care. President Franklin D. Roosevelt assembled a special committee to write the act, and pushed for the law to pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate for almost eight months, finally succeeding in August 1935. By the time of its passing, politicians had renamed the law the "Social Security Act."
Slow But Certain Relief
Almost immediately after its introduction, the Act began to expand. In particular, the old age or retirement benefit increased based on a different formula based on average monthly earnings; the elderly who no longer worked were entitled to a benefit that averaged roughly $26.25 per month. Survivors and dependents were included as beneficiaries, so they could receive a family member's Social Security benefits after the individual died. This modification was of particular importance for widows who had not worked, and had not accrued benefits. The standard of living for retirees increased dramatically, while others in need began to receive benefits to ease the economic stress of joblessness.
The Act Grows Up
Over the years, the Act was amended several times. In the 1950s, farm workers, self-employed individuals, and domestic workers were added to the Act's coverage umbrella. Later amendments included disabled workers, and the law was altered to correct for cost-of-living adjustments. The last major change in the Act occurred in 2000, when the "means test" for older Americans was removed. This meant they could collect Social Security regardless of their income and assets. In effect, the Act says that Americans are not completely laissez-faire in their attitude toward other members of society. They believe the government should provide at least some sort of assistance when individuals or families are in distress.
Back to the Future
When politicians discuss Social Security today, their main concern is its continued existence. Because of demographic changes in American society, such as the retirement of the baby boomers and expanded lifespans, projections indicate that the Social Security "trust" will run dry by the year 2040. Though the Act provided very well for four generations of Americans, government may be forced to modify it in some way.
Kat Stromquist received a master's in creative writing from the University of New Orleans. She writes about interior design and lifestyle issues for a variety of print and web outlets.