Social Security turns 78

Born under FDR and expanded by LBJ, the program may be shaky in its dotage, but it's still vital to millions of Americans.

By Jason Notte Aug 16, 2013 9:01AM
Senior woman blows out candles on birthday cake (© Jaime Kowal, Photodisc, Getty Images)Happy 78th birthday, Social Security. Let's hope you're still around when most of us reach that age.


Social Security was born during President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration as a means of combating the Great Depression and nearly 50% unemployment. The first lump-sum payment of 17 cents was made to Ernest Ackerman in 1937. The first monthly Social Security check of $22.54 went to Ida May Fuller in January 1940.


This year, about 58 million Americans will receive $821 billion in Social Security benefits. The average monthly benefit for a retired worker in 2013 is $1,262. Nine out of 10 Americans age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits. And among the unmarried, 46% rely on Social Security benefits for 90% or more of their income.


With baby boomers continuing to retire in greater numbers and the current economy sputtering along, there's nearly constant fretting about the state of the great social safety net. Still, Americans of all stripes tend not to like hearing about it being cut, especially after spending years paying into it.


Last spring, seemingly the only issue that united liberals and conservatives was the Obama administration's plan to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits. While Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry famously called Social Security a Ponzi scheme in 2011, earlier this year, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., was quoted in The Hill calling the Obama plan a "shocking attack on seniors."


Thirty years ago, with bipartisan backing, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation aimed at keeping Social Security solvent. "This bill demonstrates for all time our nation's ironclad commitment to Social Security," he said. "It assures the elderly that America will always keep the promises made in troubled times a half a century ago. It assures those who are still working that they, too, have a pact with the future."


But retirement benefits are just part of the Social Security package, especially after President Lyndon Johnson's War On Poverty added Medicare and Medicaid to the mix. Disabled workers and their dependents account for 19% of the total benefits paid, while survivors benefits account for 11%.


As the Social Security Administration points out, 25% of today's 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67, and the majority have no long-term disability insurance besides their Social Security coverage. About 12% of today's 20-year-olds will die before reaching age 67, and the dependent families of the deceased workers are often eligible for survivors benefits.


The system has become so vital that just before a House Budget Committee hearing last month, Elise Gould, the director of health policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, called Social Security the nation's most effective antipoverty program.


"Without Social Security," she said on the EPI's website, "an additional 8.3% of Americans, or over 25 million more people, would fall below the (Supplemental Poverty Measure) poverty threshold."


Social Security may look a bit creaky at 78, but for many Americans, it's still strong enough to help them through tough times and provide them with a little extra after a lifetime of work.


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72Comments
Aug 16, 2013 10:36AM
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Certain groups in this country are doing everything in their power to convince people not to participate in Social Security. If you tell folks it's never going to give you a payout, of course folks would say, why should I pay in. So instead of these certain folks trying to destroy Social Security, how about doing things to strengthen it. Fact is, the SuperRich don't need Social Security so they feel you shouldn't need it either. Despite the FACT that the SuperRich are doing everything in their power to reduce Real Wages and your ability to save for Retirement.

Certain groups also don't want you to know that the Social Security Trust Fund has nearly 3 Trillion Dollars. Certain Groups don't want you to know that Uncle Ben by lowering interest rates, has also lowered the Interest Return to the Social Security Trust Fund. Regardless, the Fund is hardly in any real Danger. With a few tweaks, it will provide for Seniors for many decades to come. The SuperRich don't like that. They rather you work until you Drop Dead.

Aug 16, 2013 12:01PM
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I would gladly take a check for the full amount that I have paid in since I began working back 1972 and they will save the interest that they earned on my money.
Aug 16, 2013 1:03PM
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Ah, America where everyone is a winner!  There are ways of coping with the system in your "golden years", I moved out of the country so I could afford to live comfortably. It's worked great for 3 years so far.  If this falls through there's always plan B and C to fall back on.
Aug 16, 2013 2:04PM
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My co-pay on my health insurance just went up 20% and my maximum out of pocket just went up 30%. Ya, this Obamacare is working great. Also, my state wants to raise it's income taxes on everyone. Where am I going to get the money? All state fees have increased also. Does anyone know how much we actually pay in taxes and fees to all levels of government?
Aug 16, 2013 1:58PM
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SS is something all working people pay into.  It was said to "be there" when we reach age 62.  Now, I constantly hear politicians wanting to cut it.  They don't want to cut the programs that are free to those who won't work. And, they don't want to cut the give aways to other countries in the form of "aid."  But, FEMA has no money to help those in our country who have had losses due to floods, tornados, hurricanes and wildfires, and other natural disasters.  The problem, as I see it, is not SS at all.  It is the politicians. But, they develop laws to put us under and exempt themselves.  Example: One of many, Obamacare.  The only way I see out is for a national revolution against the Taliban in washington.  Hate to see it, but it may be necessary.
Aug 16, 2013 10:24AM
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Brutus...see where you are coming  from.  But sending a payment in voluntarily,  some people might have a problem with that,  like putting money in a savings account,  people don't  always do that.  Unless we can make it mandatory somehow,  and if they don't pay do they lose their benefits,  or does the IRS go after any tax refunds ?
Aug 16, 2013 12:17PM
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About the only time I agreed with Bush 2 was when he said he wanted to permantly

fix SS.However, he didn`t have a plan,as usual.There`s lots of think tanks in D.C.,just

grab a couple and vote on it.

Aug 16, 2013 3:33PM
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"Disabled workers and their dependents account for 19% of the total benefits paid...;" So about $80 Billion goes to disabled workers. In my position (interacting with many of those that claim to be disabled), I'd conservatively estimate 50% are outright fraud (claiming conditions like depression or anxiety -impossible to disprove); all the while spending 3-6 months a year back in the 'old country.’ Thus, our cash strapped nation is giving away $40 odd Billion a year through SSDI.

 

I say we create several panels of independent doctors and investigators (that are monitored for kickbacks/connections to patients) and send them around the country to take a thorough second look at each and every disability claim, to include the patients activities. Paying these doctors and investigators tens of millions a year would save us tens of Billions.

 

 

   

Aug 17, 2013 12:59AM
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Don't cut benefits.  Make congress pay back SS before any other debt and stop taking our money to fund their friends pork projects.
Aug 16, 2013 10:54AM
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this all boils down to the government not trusting you with your own money. after all, big brother knows best. this is an insult to the handfull of people out here who can think for themselves. this was also an insult to the handful of people out here who cherish freedom.
Aug 16, 2013 2:22PM
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Since the Republican Party is bent on ENDING Social Security they should start by telling their Republican voting seniors to DECLINE their Social Security checks.

Let Repub voting seniors show us how they can live without their SS/MC.

Repub voters have NO BUSINESS being on SS or unemployment or any form of welfare benefit.

Aug 16, 2013 3:38PM
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Correction: That's about $160 Billion going to disabled workers, with $80 Billion lost to fraud...

Aug 16, 2013 9:32AM
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If SS is so great, why not make it voluntary?  We could find out really quick about how many folks think it's worth the investment if we get rid of the automatic FICA withholding and have people send in a check every month instead.  It would be interesting to find out how many people are really interested in participating.

This whole idea of automatically withholding money is ingeniously nefarious.  People never really know how much they are paying to the gov because they never see the money to begin with.   We could get some real reform in this country if we would end the practice of withholding, and make people pay out of pocket every time the gov holds its hand out.  

I wish everyone would go into business for themselves at least once in their life, even if just for a year or two.  Perspectives change when you're signing the front of a paycheck, instead of the back.  They also change when you pay the full FICA amount yourself, instead of just half, and when you have to send in estimated tax payments every quarter.

Aug 16, 2013 1:29PM
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Thank God FDR had the wisdom to create this program.  Many seniors would starve to death without it.  No matter how small or large the monthly payment, it's still a godsend to many.  Stop griping about paying into the program and stop listening to all the naysayers.  When it's your time to reap the benefits of SS you will get your just due.  Enough said.
Aug 16, 2013 1:32PM
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Nothing happy about this idiotic Ponzi scheme.
Aug 16, 2013 2:44PM
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Peel the welfare out of SS - if you don't put in a serious amount then you can't take out a serious amount.  Roll 100% of all Gov't Pension funds into SS it will be funded until 2099 - then make all gov't employees live off SS like everyone else
Aug 16, 2013 1:10PM
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RIGHT ON STREETMUSIC! GIVE ME MY MONEY NOW AND STOP TAKING MONEY OUT OF MY
FING CHECK! I DON'T NEED THE GOVT TAKING MY MONEY SPENDING IT THEN TELLING OH
YOU MAY NOT BE ABLE TO COLLECT! THAT IS FRAUD LIKE ALL DEMOCRAT PROGRAMS!
THIS IS LEFT WING BS! A SCAM! LIKE MEDICARE! GIVE ME MY MONEY AND I'LL TAKE CARE
OF MYSELF! I'LL SPEND MY MONEY ON WHATEVER HEALTHCARE I CHOOSE NOT THE GOVT!
I LOVE HOW THESE LEFT WING PROGRESSIVE MORONS TRY TO DEFEND THESE PROGRAMS!
WAIT TIL OBAMACARE WITH IT'S DEATH PANELS START DENYING TREATMENT TO THEM!

Aug 16, 2013 10:19PM
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I don't understand why SS should be involved with those that are disabled. Every State or at least most have a disability program that companies pay into as well as the workers. That said, why not make it a national thing similar to SS. If you don't work and pay into it then you don't benefit from it. Simply put, you are "taxed" and pay into SS for retirement, if you pay into Disability then that is where you get a disability claim. It shouldn't be SSDI at all. period.
Aug 16, 2013 4:05PM
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Oh yeah. Let's make Social Security voluntary and see what happens. No one will pay into it, and they won't pay into their 401k's either. Then, at some point in the future, we'll have millions of people on the street. And I know what you're going to say: so what? they made their beds! Let them sleep in it! Do you REALLY think that's going to happen? Do you really think we're going to let a bunch of Americans starve? Right. So where does that leave us? Right where we started. We need a program to help people who otherwise do not have the discipline or the means to maintain their own retirement accounts.

 

Instead of b1tching about Social Security, most of you should be paying attention to how much the fat cats in this country are making, how little they are being taxed, and how badly they want to fleece the rest of us (and that includes you, brother). The disparity in earnings between the top one percent and the rest of us is obscene.

 

You know, instead of taking mutually exclusive, blatantly false sides to every "contentious" political issue out there, if you would all work together, promote peace, channel capital into reinvesting in industry, infrastructure, research and development, etc. (and worldwide we have plenty of money for this), we'd be a whole lot better off. But we can't do that. The reason is simple: we are a race populated mostly by blathering idiots who can do nothing but parrot their adopted dogma and urinate on everything else. It sure would be nice to see some original thought in some of these posts, but most Americans just don't think for themselves anymore. Too brainwashed.

Aug 16, 2013 12:29PM
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Social Security. The Government forced and run Ponzi scheme. Takes the responsibility of retirement from the people. You now have the guarantee for a poor retirement living on 1/3 of what you couldn't live on before. This was the first step towards socialism making FDR the worst President in history.  This was put in place not to help people, but to control the elderly. 
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