From the Museum

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.

5 thoughts on “From the Museum

  1. FDR’s precedent-setting Social Security program is the most successful, least scandal-prone, most efficient, and most popular government program in the history of the world.

    It currently enjoys a $2.6 Trillion dollar surplus; and if people would just stop lying about its current and future solvency, we would all be better off.

  2. I might also add that in showing what the dollar amount of monthly benefits were in the 1940s, one might conclude the FDR Library staffers are trying to give the impression that benefits now are out of proportion to the intended benefits at the start of the program.

    In the 1940s, a ride on the NYC subway cost FIVE CENTS — today that same ride costs $2.25 !

    In the 1940s, a pound of cherries cost 19 cents — today that same pound costs five dollars in most super markets.

    And on and on.

    1. The Library was posting information about an interesting artifact in the museum collection related to this week’s anniversary of the Social Security Act. The staff was not rendering any historical judgments.

      1. Yes, I understand what you were doing.

        But you COULD have included some information to put in perspective the dollar amounts shown on that artifact. It would have been helpful to those reading the post today but who were not alive in the 1940s and have no idea how much lower salaries, rents and the costs of just about everything were in the 1940s.

  3. Interesting that there was concerned raised over the government using the social security fund for other purposes. Today it is still a concern.

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