Eighty years ago today, President Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act (SSA), which guaranteed an income for the unemployed and retirees. While the future of Social Security continues to be a hot issue leading up to the 2016 election, there’s no doubt that the SSA changed what it meant to grow old in America.
Prior to Social Security, growing old was something to be dreaded. During the Great Depression many older people were unemployed, and people who had worked hard all their lives were living in poverty as they grew older due to illnesses or the sudden loss of a job. Age discrimination made it even more difficult for older workers who were able to work to find employment.
Today, Social Security continues to give older people and the disabled some hope and stability in the form of a guaranteed and predictable monthly replacement of wages. According to the Social Security Administration, more than 59 million Americans received $863 billion in Social Security benefits last year, and working Americans continue to pay into Social Security so that they will receive money when they stop working.
At the signing ceremony on August 14, 1935, President Roosevelt said: “Today a hope of many years’ standing is in large part fulfilled. The civilization of the past hundred years, with its startling industrial changes, has tended more and more to make life insecure. Young people have come to wonder what would be their lot when they came to old age. The man with a job has wondered how long the job would last….We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”