Social Security Through the Ages

In the someday book that I am writing, I weave a generational story that speaks to the changes in our society and aging. As I consider the importance of the Social Security Act of 1935, here’s an excerpt from that story:

She looked out the window, taking in the spring’s bounty and spotting the familiar hem of her granddaughter’s blue skirt as she makes her way down Halsted Street. She thinks even from this distance it looks a little frayed. As Chloe comes into full view, she sees that her granddaughter has a small bag in one hand and a Chicago Tribune paper tucked under her arm. She wishes that Chloe wouldn’t spend what little he has on such things for her, having only a part-time job at The Berghoff as a coat check. She remembers when money seemed to come and go easily. Now looking around her dingy one room that she shares with another woman of similar circumstance at Hull House, she wonders how it all went awry. She rises quickly but with a grimace against her arthritic knees, the lavender that she had applied not having quite taken effect yet. As she straightens the one rug in the room, she hears the soft rap as she turns to see Chloe bounce into the room. The breath of fresh air that Chloe brings sends her into brief reminisce of days long since passed, a time when life seemed so easily greeted. Having lost her husband late last year followed by the harsh winter, she does her best to believe that 1935 will be a good year. The Depression had hit everyone hard but when her husband had lost his job, the house and savings soon followed, and he just couldn’t survive it. She is fortunate that the Director of the House had taken her in, and she does what she can in the settlement to contribute, although her energy level wanes. She listens as Chloe chatters on about the handsome men coming to the club, how she is sure to smile sweetly and will marry a rich man someday. She knows that her granddaughter takes in her current living plight, surely not wanting to come to old age in such conditions. She glances over at the paper on the table, noting the headline “House Passes New Dealers’ Security Bill”, and she puts on her glasses to read further. Not meaning to ignore Chloe’s bright hum of her storytelling, she reads on and wonders if it is this that will save her granddaughter from the same fate.

We can now look back and know the significant impact of this legislation, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This landmark legislation laid the foundation for what we now know as Social Security. Its primary goal? To provide financial support to older Americans who had little or no income. This included housewives, who often didn’t have their own earnings but were an integral part of the home and society.

Back then, many women were homemakers, dedicating their lives to raising children and managing households. They didn’t have traditional jobs with paychecks and retirement plans, which made them particularly vulnerable in their later years. Social Security changed that by offering a safety net based on their spouse’s work history.

Under this system, a housewife could receive benefits based on her husband’s earnings. This was a game-changer because it meant that women who had devoted their lives to their families would have some financial security in their golden years, even if they hadn’t worked outside the home.

As the years went by, Social Security continued to adapt and grow. It expanded to cover more types of workers, including self-employed individuals and government employees. Benefits were adjusted for inflation, and disability benefits were added to the mix. This evolution reflected the changing needs of American society.

While Social Security has been a lifeline for countless older Americans, it has faced its fair share of challenges. One of the most pressing issues is the program’s long-term financial sustainability. As the baby boomer generation continues to retire, there is a strain on Social Security funds. Policymakers have been debating various reforms to ensure the program’s viability for future generations.

Social Security has come a long way since its inception during the Great Depression. As it continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of society, one thing remains clear: Social Security plays a crucial role in providing financial security and peace of mind for our seniors.