Seventy-two years ago this week, the Social Security Act became law. With the stroke of a pen, the compact giving our seniors the dignity and financial security needed to prevent poverty for millions of aging Americans was established.
The most successful government program in our nation’s history, Social Security remains popular with the American public. For disabled Americans and children who have lost a parent it has also meant the difference between crippling poverty and a chance to succeed.
But it wasn’t always this way. In 1935, after bank failures and a stock market crash had wiped out the savings of millions of Americans, over half of the country’s elderly lacked sufficient income to be self-supporting. President Franklin Roosevelt, however, had a vision for a program that would guarantee workers a decent income through benefits they earned through their own hard work.
What became known as Social Security has succeeded in meeting President Roosevelt's grand goal. Providing seven decades of rock solid, guaranteed benefits, Social Security’s enactment has decreased old age poverty from 50 to 10 percent. In Virginia, over 1 million people today depend on Social Security including 191,526 people with disabilities, 671,451 seniors, 157,978 survivors, and 72,740 children.
Social Security developed in several stages. Since its inception, there have been efforts to strengthen and expand the programs ability to help those in need. For example, in the 1950s, disability benefits were added. Then in the 1960s, Medicare was created to guarantee health care for our seniors. Then in 1983, Democrats worked with President Reagan in a bipartisan way to come up with a plan to make sure that Social Security would be there for generations to come.
The struggle to strengthen Social Security has often been fought over partisan lines, with most Republicans historically being opposed to the program. In the past six years, they increased their efforts to break the system by threatening to replace this guaranteed benefit with a privatization plan that neither strengthens Social Security nor keeps it solvent.
One of President Bush’s top domestic priorities was to privatize Social Security. That plan failed, but not before a major fight was waged both in Congress and in the sphere of public debate. Had the President’s plan been enacted, the average beneficiary would have seen a cut in their monthly Social Security payment of $253 — the single biggest middle class Social Security benefit cut in history. Further, it would have increased our national debt by $5 trillion over 20 years, passing the bill onto our children and grandchildren.
We have a moral obligation to stand up and protect Social Security for the next generation. Democrats are committed to finding a bipartisan solution that will strengthen Social Security so that it can pay full benefits without increasing the deficit, harming the middle class, or slashing guaranteed benefits. For 72 years, Social Security has never failed to pay promised benefits, and has never been late. On its 72nd anniversary, we celebrate its success and renew our commitment to strengthening the program for our future generations.