The original Social Security Act was signed into law on this date in 1935. It was part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and it was first intended to help keep senior citizens out of poverty. The country had had a national economic security program in place since the Civil War Pension Program began in 1862. But this program was only available to war veterans and their families; what’s more, Confederate veterans were barred from the pension. After the onset of the Great Depression, poverty rates — especially among the elderly — skyrocketed. Some state pension plans were introduced, but they were inadequate and only served about 3 percent of the nation’s elderly. FDR based his plan on “social insurance” policies operating in Europe, and envisioned a program funded by employment taxes collected from the workers themselves.
When he signed the act into law, Roosevelt said: “We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”