Social Security (United States) - History

History

A limited form of the Social Security program began, during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term, as a measure to implement "social insurance" during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when poverty rates among senior citizens exceeded 50 percent. The Act was an attempt to limit what were seen as dangers in the modern American life, including old age, poverty, unemployment, and the burdens of widows and fatherless children.

Opponents also decried the proposal as socialism. In a Senate Finance Committee hearing, one Senator asked Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, "Isn't this socialism?" She said that it was not, but he continued, "Isn't this a teeny-weeny bit of socialism?"

The majority of women and minorities were excluded in the beginning from the benefits of unemployment insurance and old age pensions. Employment definitions reflected typical white male categories and patterns.

The provisions of Social Security have been changing since the 1930s, shifting in response to economic worries as well as concerns over changing gender roles and the position of minorities. Officials have responded more to the concerns of women than those of minority groups. Social Security gradually moved toward universal coverage. By 1950, debates moved away from which occupational groups should be included to how to provide more adequate coverage. Changes in Social Security have reflected a balance between promoting equality and efforts to provide adequate protection.

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