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Social Security Placard (MO 2012.2.4)

Soon after its enactment, FDR began working to expand Social Security. Congress ignored his calls to open coverage to farm and domestic workers and other excluded groups. But in 1939, lawmakers passed amendments that added Social Security benefits for the spouse and minor children of retired workers. Congress also provided survivor benefits to family members in the case of the premature death of a worker.

During Social Security’s early years a major debate erupted over the program’s funding. Critics argued the government reserve fund established to hold Social Security contributions inevitably would be raided by the government for other purposes. Others worried about the effect of Social Security payroll taxes on an economy still mired in economic depression.

In response, Congress moved up the date for Social Security benefits from 1942 to 1940 and postponed scheduled increases in Social Security tax rates. These actions decreased the size of the reserve fund and took the program off the funding path FDR had charted. Seeds of future fiscal problems had been planted.

The display item above was created in 1940, just as the first Social Security benefit checks were being received. At almost two feet tall, the cardboard placard with easel was designed to inform workers about Social Security benefits and encourage them to enroll in the program. This rare placard was a gift to the FDR Library from Michael Agee in February 2012.

Enacting Social Security

On August 14, 1935 legislators and advisors crowded into the White House Cabinet Room to witness the signing of the Social Security Act. News photographers and film crews recorded the moment for history as FDR put his signature on the bill. Standing directly behind the President was the person most responsible for it – Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins.

After signing the Act, the President read a short statement. “We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life,” he observed. “But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protections to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.” The headline in that day’s Washington Post red “New Deal’s Most Important Act.”

 

August 14, 1935: FDR signs the Social Security Bill into law.

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Did you know:

  • On August 14, 1936 FDR set forth a foreign policy of neutrality at Chautauqua, NY.
  • On August 14, 1941 FDR announced the Atlantic Charter.

 

April 27, 1937: The nation’s first Social Security checks were distributed.

Social Security poster of a woman leaning on a fence post.
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 53-227(1733).

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Did you know:

  • On April 30, 1939, FDR appeared on television opening the New York World’s Fair.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum presents:
“OUR PLAIN DUTY”: FDR and AMERICA’S SOCIAL SECURITY
A Special Exhibition Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Social Security

Exhibit opens Sunday, August 15, 2010. For more information about the exhibit, click here.

August 14, 1935: FDR signs the Social Security Bill into law.

April 27, 1937: The nation’s first Social Security checks were distributed.

Social Security poster of a woman leaning on a fence post.
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 53-227(1733).

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The New Deal Estore is a great place to shop for Roosevelt related books, gifts, and other treasures from the New Deal Store at the Roosevelt Library. Available at www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu, the Estore features everything from a selection of the latest books on the Roosevelts and their times, to T-shirts, ties and caps, multimedia, campaign memorabilia, and museum replicas. For items related to this week’s blog post, follow the links below:

Social Security: History & Politics from the New Deal to the Privatization Debate by Daniel Beland
The Woman Behind the New Deal, The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor by Kirsten Downey
The Coming of the New Deal, The Age of Roosevelt by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
Freedom from Fear 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy
The Great Depression – America, 1929-1941 by Robert S. McElvaine

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