Social Security Act

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Social Security Act of 1935
Great Seal of the United States (obverse).svg
Other short titlesSSA
Long titleThe Social Security Act of 1935
Enacted bythe 74th United States Congress
Statutes at Large Pub.L.   74–271, 49  Stat.   620, enacted August 14, 1935
U.S.C. sections created 42 U.S.C. ch. 7
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Houseas H.R. 7260
  • Passed the House on April 19, 1935 (372-33)
  • Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 14, 1935
Major amendments
Social Security Amendments of 1965
Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Balanced Budget Refinement Act of 1999
United States Supreme Court cases
Steward Machine Company v. Davis , Helvering v. Davis
President Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935. Signing Of The Social Security Act.jpg
President Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935.

The Social Security Act of 1935 is a law enacted by the 74th United States Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The law created the Social Security program as well as insurance against unemployment. The law was part of Roosevelt's New Deal domestic program.

74th United States Congress 1935–1937 U.S. Congress

The Seventy-fourth United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, composed of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met in Washington, DC from January 3, 1935, to January 3, 1937, during the third and fourth years of Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency. The apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives was based on the Fifteenth Census of the United States in 1930. Both chambers had a Democratic supermajority.

Franklin D. Roosevelt 32nd president of the United States

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often referred to by initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A member of the Democratic Party, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which realigned American politics into the Fifth Party System and defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II, which ended shortly after he died in office. He has been subject to substantial criticism. He is rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

In the United States, Social Security is the commonly used term for the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program and is administered by the Social Security Administration. The original Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, and the current version of the Act, as amended, encompasses several social welfare and social insurance programs.


By the 1930s, the United States was the lone modern industrial country without any national system of social security. In the midst of the Great Depression, physician Francis Townsend galvanized support behind a proposal to issue direct payments to the elderly. Responding to this movement, Roosevelt organized a committee led by Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins to develop a major social welfare program proposal. Roosevelt presented the plan in early 1935, and he signed the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935. The act was upheld by the Supreme Court in two major cases decided in 1937.

Great Depression in the United States began in August 1929, when the United States economy first went into an economic recession

The Great Depression began in August 1929, when the United States economy first went into an economic recession. Everyone in the Great Depression struggled financially due to the collapse of the banking system. Although the country spent two months with declining GDP, it was not until the Wall Street Crash in October 1929 that the effects of a declining economy were felt, and a major worldwide economic downturn ensued. The stock market crash marked the beginning of a decade of high unemployment, poverty, low profits, deflation, plunging farm incomes, and lost opportunities for economic growth as well as for personal advancement. Altogether, there was a general loss of confidence in the economic future.

Francis Townsend American politician

Francis Everett Townsend was an American physician who was best known for his revolving old-age pension proposal during the Great Depression. Known as the "Townsend Plan", this proposal influenced the establishment of the Roosevelt administration's Social Security system. He was born just outside Fairbury, Illinois, where he is memorialized by a post office named in his honor.

Frances Perkins American politician

Frances Perkins was an American sociologist and workers-rights advocate who served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, the longest serving in that position, and the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet. As a loyal supporter of her friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt, she helped pull the labor movement into the New Deal coalition. She and Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes were the only original members of the Roosevelt cabinet to remain in office for his entire presidency.

The law established the Social Security program, an old-age program funded by payroll taxes. Over the ensuing decades, Social Security program contributed to a dramatic decline in poverty among the elderly, while spending on Social Security became a major part of the federal budget. The Social Security Act also established an unemployment insurance program administered by the states, as well as the Aid to Dependent Children program, which provided aid to families headed by single mothers. The law was later amended by acts such as the Social Security Amendments of 1965, which established two major healthcare programs, Medicare and Medicaid.

Aid to Families with Dependent Children federal assistance program

Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was a federal assistance program in effect from 1935 to 1996 created by the Social Security Act (SSA) and administered by the United States Department of Health and Human Services that provided financial assistance to children whose families had low or no income.

Social Security Amendments of 1965

The Social Security Amendments of 1965, Pub.L. 89–97, 79 Stat. 286, enacted July 30, 1965, was legislation in the United States whose most important provisions resulted in creation of two programs: Medicare and Medicaid. The legislation initially provided federal health insurance for the elderly and for poor families.

Medicare (United States) United States single-payer national social insurance program

Medicare is a national health insurance program in the United States, begun in 1966 under the Social Security Administration (SSA) and now administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). It provides health insurance for Americans aged 65 and older, younger people with some disability status as determined by the Social Security Administration, as well as people with end stage renal disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Background and history

Industrialization and the urbanization in the 20th Century created many new social problems, and transformed ideas of how society and the government should function together because of them. As industry expanded, cities grew quickly to keep up with demand for labor. Tenement houses were built quickly and poorly, cramming new migrants from farms and Southern and Eastern European immigrants into tight and unhealthy spaces. Work spaces were even more unsafe. [2]

By the 1930s, the United States was the lone modern industrial country where people faced the Depression without any national system of social security, though a handful of states had poorly-funded old-age insurance programs. [3] The federal government had provided pensions to veterans in the aftermath of the Civil War and other wars, and some states had established voluntary old-age pension systems, but otherwise the United States had little experience with social insurance programs. [4] For most American workers, retirement due to old age was not a realistic option. [5] In the 1930s, physician Francis Townsend galvanized support for his pension proposal, which called for the federal government to issue direct $200-a-month payments to the elderly. [6] Roosevelt was attracted to the general thinking behind Townsend's plan because it would provide for those no longer capable of working while at the same time stimulating demand in the economy and decreasing the supply of labor. [7] In 1934, Roosevelt charged the Committee on Economic Security, chaired by Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, with developing an old-age pension program, an unemployment insurance system, and a national health care program. The proposal for a national health care system was dropped, but the committee developed an unemployment insurance program largely administered by the states. The committee also developed an old-age plan that, at Roosevelt's insistence, would be funded by individual contributions from workers. [8]

Social insurance is any government-sponsored program with the following four characteristics:

Retirement point where a person ceases employment permanently

Retirement is the withdrawal from one's position or occupation or from one's active working life. A person may also semi-retire by reducing work hours.

National health insurance (NHI) – sometimes called statutory health insurance (SHI) – is a system of health insurance that insures a national population against the costs of health care. It may be administered by the public sector, the private sector, or a combination of both. Funding mechanisms vary with the particular program and country. National or Statutory health insurance does not equate to government-run or government-financed health care, but is usually established by national legislation. In some countries, such as Australia's Medicare system, the UK's National Health Service, and the South Korea’s National Health Insurance Corporation contributions to the system are made via general taxation and therefore are not optional even though use of the health system it finances is. In practice, most people paying for NHI will join it. Where the NHI involves a choice of multiple insurance funds, the rates of contributions may vary and the person has to choose which insurance fund to belong to.

In January 1935, Roosevelt proposed the Social Security Act, which he presented as a more practical alternative to the Townsend Plan. After a series of congressional hearings, the Social Security Act became law in August 1935. [9] During the congressional debate over Social Security, the program was expanded to provide payments to widows and dependents of Social Security recipients. [10] Job categories that were not covered by the act included workers in agricultural labor, domestic service, government employees, and many teachers, nurses, hospital employees, librarians, and social workers. [11] The program was funded through a newly established a payroll tax which later became known as the Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax. Social Security taxes would be collected from employers by the states, with employers and employees contributing equally to the tax. [12] Because the Social Security tax was regressive, and Social Security benefits were based on how much each individual had paid into the system, the program would not contribute to income redistribution in the way that some reformers, including Perkins, had hoped. [13] In addition to creating the Social Security program, the Social Security Act also established a state-administered unemployment insurance system and the Aid to Dependent Children program, which provided aid to families headed by single mothers. [14] Compared with the social security systems in western European countries, the Social Security Act of 1935 was rather conservative. But for the first time the federal government took responsibility for the economic security of the aged, the temporarily unemployed, dependent children and the handicapped. [15]

The Federal Insurance Contributions Act is a United States federal payroll contribution directed towards both employees and employers to fund Social Security and Medicare—federal programs that provide benefits for retirees, people with disabilities, and children of deceased workers.

A regressive tax is a tax imposed in such a manner that the average tax rate decreases as the amount subject to taxation increases. "Regressive" describes a distribution effect on income or expenditure, referring to the way the rate progresses from high to low, so that the average tax rate exceeds the marginal tax rate. In terms of individual income and wealth, a regressive tax imposes a greater burden on the poor than on the rich: there is an inverse relationship between the tax rate and the taxpayer's ability to pay, as measured by assets, consumption, or income. These taxes tend to reduce the tax burden of the people with a higher ability to pay, as they shift the relative burden increasingly to those with a lower ability to pay.


The Social Security Act has been amended significantly over time, but contains ten major titles.

Title I—old age

Title I is designed to give money to states to provide assistance to aged individuals

Title III—unemployment

Title III concerns unemployment insurance

Title IV—child aid

Title IV concerns Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

Title V—child welfare

Title V concerns Maternal and Child Welfare.

Title VI—public health

Title VI concerns public health services (investigation of disease and problems of sanitation)

Title X—blindness

Title X concerns support for blind people. [16]

Title XI—General Provisions, Peer Review, and Administrative Simplification

Title XII—Advances to State Unemployment Funds

Title XIII—Reconversion Unemployment Benefits for Seamen

Title XIV—Grants to States for Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled

Title XV—Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees

Title XVI—Grants to States for Aid to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled

Title XVI—Supplemental Security Income for the Aged, Blind, and Disabled

Title XVII—Grants for Planning Comprehensive Action to Combat Mental Retardation

Title XVIII—Health Insurance for the Aged and Disabled

Title XIX—Grants to States for Medical Assistance Programs

Title XX—Block Grants to States for Social Services

Title XXI—State Children's Health Insurance Program


Social Security Act Amendments of 1939

H.R.6635 Approved, August 10, 1939 Public Law 76-379

Amendments of 1939: The original Act provided only retirement benefits, and only to the worker. The 1939 Amendments made a fundamental change in the Social Security program. The Amendments added two new categories of benefits: payments to the spouse and minor children of a retired worker (called dependents benefits) and survivors benefits paid to the family in the event of the premature death of the worker. The 1939 Amendments also increased benefit amounts and accelerated the start of monthly benefit payments from 1940 to 1942.

War Mobilization and Reconversion Act of 1944

S.2051 Approved, October 3, 1944 Public Law 78-458

Title XII

Social Security Act Amendments of 1946

H.R.7037 Approved, August 10, 1946 Public Law 79-719

Title XIII

Social Security Act Amendments of 1950

H.R.6000 Approved August 28, 1950 Public Law 81-734

These amendments raised benefits for the first time and placed the program on the road to the virtually universal coverage it has today. Specifically it is the introduction of the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).


Approved June 28, 1952 Public Law 82-420

Social Security Act Amendments of 1952

H.R.7800 Approved, July 18, 1952 Public Law 82-590

Social Security Act Amendments of 1954

H.R.9366 Approved September 1, 1954 Public Law 83-761


Approved September 1, 1954 Public Law 83-767

Title XV

Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendments of 1963

H.R.7544 Approved, October 24, 1963 Public Law 88-156

Title XVII

Social Security Amendments of 1965

H.R.6675 Approved, July 30, 1965 Public Law 89-97

Title XVIII Title XIX

Constitutional litigation

In the 1930s, the Supreme Court struck down many pieces of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation, including the Railroad Retirement Act. The Court threw out a centerpiece of the New Deal, the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and New York State's minimum-wage law. President Roosevelt responded with an attempt to pack the court via the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937. On February 5, 1937, he sent a special message to Congress proposing legislation granting the President new powers to add additional judges to all federal courts whenever there were sitting judges age 70 or older who refused to retire. [17] The practical effect of this proposal was that the President would get to appoint six new Justices to the Supreme Court (and 44 judges to lower federal courts), thus instantly tipping the political balance on the Court dramatically in his favor. The debate on this proposal lasted over six months. Beginning with a set of decisions in March, April, and May 1937 (including the Social Security Act cases), the Court would sustain a series of New Deal legislation. [18] Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes played a leading role in defeating the court-packing by rushing these pieces of New Deal legislation through and ensuring that the court's majority would uphold it. [19]

In March 1937, Associate Justice Owen Roberts, who had previously sided with the court's four conservative justices, shocked the American public by siding with Hughes and the court's three liberal justices in striking down the court's previous decision in the 1923 case Adkins v. Children's Hospital , which held that minimum wage laws were a violation of the Fifth Amendment's due process clause and were thus unconstitutional, and upheld the constitutionality of Washington state's minimum wage law in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish. In 1936, Roberts joined the four conservative justices in using the Adkins decision to strike down a similar minimum wage law New York state enforced in Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo [20] and his decision to reverse his previous vote in the Morehead decision would be known as the switch in time that saved nine. In spite of widespread speculation that Roberts only agreed to join the court's majority in upholding New Deal legislation, such as the Social Security Act, during the spring of 1937 because of the court packing plan, Hughes wrote in his autobiographical notes that Roosevelt's court reform proposal "had not the slightest effect on our [the court's] decision" in the Parrish case [21] :419 and that the delayed announcement of the decision created the false impression that the Court had retreated under fire. [21] :419 Following the vast support that was demonstrated for the New Deal through Roosevelt's re-election in 1936, [21] :422–23 Hughes persuaded Roberts to no longer base his decisions on political maneuvering and side with him in future cases that involved New Deal legislation [21] :422–23

Records show Roberts had indicated his desire to overturn the Adkins decision two days after oral arguments concluded for the Parrish case on December 19, 1936. [21] :413 During this time, however, the court was divided 4-4 following the initial conference call because Associate Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, one of the three liberal justices who continuously voted to uphold New Deal legislation, was absent due to an illness; [21] :414 with this even division on the Court, the holding of the Washington Supreme Court, finding the minimum wage statute constitutional, would stand. As Hughes desired a clear and strong 5–4 affirmation of the Washington Supreme Court judgment, rather than a 4–4 default affirmation, he convinced the other justices to wait until Stone's return before both deciding and announcing the case. [21] :414

US Supreme Court cases

Two Supreme Court rulings affirmed the constitutionality of the Social Security Act.

Other cases


In 1940, Social Security benefits paid totaled $35 million. These rose to $961 million in 1950, $11.2 billion in 1960, $31.9 billion in 1970, $120.5 billion in 1980, and $247.8 billion in 1990 (all figures in nominal dollars, not adjusted for inflation). In 2004, $492 billion of benefits were paid to 47.5 million beneficiaries. [23] In 2009, nearly 51 million Americans received $650 billion in Social Security benefits.

During the 1950s, over-65s continued to have the highest poverty rate of any age group in the US with the largest percentage of the nation's wealth concentrated in the hands of Americans under 35. By 2010, this figure had dramatically reversed itself with the largest percentage of wealth being in the hands of Americans aged 55–75 and those under 45 being among the poorest. Elder poverty, once a normal sight, had thus become rare by the 21st century. [24]

Reflecting the continuing importance of the Social Security Act, biographer Kenneth S. Davis described the Social Security Act "the most important single piece of social legislation in all American history." [25]

See also

Related Research Articles

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  2. Butler, Chris. ""The Social Impact of Industrialization," The Flow of History". Flow of History. Retrieved October 24, 2016.
  3. Kennedy 1999, p. 260.
  4. McJimsey 2000, p. 105.
  5. Kennedy 1999, p. 261.
  6. McJimsey 2000, pp. 105–107.
  7. Kennedy 1999, pp. 257–258, 371.
  8. Kennedy 1999, pp. 262–266.
  9. Kennedy 1999, pp. 270–271.
  10. McJimsey 2000, p. 108.
  11. Quadagno, Jill (1994). The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 7.
  12. McJimsey 2000, p. 107.
  13. Kennedy 1999, pp. 267–269.
  14. Kennedy 1999, pp. 271–272.
  15. Mary Beth Norton; et al. (2009). A People and a Nation: A History of the United States. Since 1865. Cengage. p. 670. ISBN   0547175604.
  16. Achene, Andrew (1986). Social Security Visions and Revisions. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 25-6.
  17. Archived October 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  18. "Social Security Administration". Retrieved September 11, 2011.
  19. [11] Archived March 9, 2012, at the Wayback Machine . Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  20. 298 U.S. 587 (1936)
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 McKenna, Marian C. (2002). Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Constitutional War: The Court-packing Crisis of 1937. New York, NY: Fordham University Press. ISBN   978-0-8232-2154-7.
  22. "Steward Machine Company vs. Davis, 301 U.S, 548". Archived from the original on November 28, 2005. Retrieved December 3, 2005.
  23. p. 19 Archived December 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  25. Kennedy 1999, p. 273.