Frances Perkins on the Social Security Act (1935)


[Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins hailed the recent passage of the Social Security Act in a speech which she gave in early September 1935.]

People who work for a living…can join with all other good citizens…in satis­faction that the Congress has passed the Social Security Act. This act establishes unemployment insurance as a substitute for haphazard methods of assistance in periods when men and women willing and able to work are without jobs. It provides for old age pensions which mark great progress over the measures upon which we have hitherto depended in caring for those who have been unable to provide for the years when they no longer can work. It also provides security for de-pendent and crippled children, mothers, the indigent disabled, and the blind.

Old people who are in need, unem­ployables, children, mothers and the sightless, will find systematic regular provisions for needs. The Act limits the Federal aid to not more that $15 per month for the individual, provided the state in which he resides appropriates a like amount. There is nothing to prevent a state from contributing more than $15 per month in special cases and there is no requirement to allow as much as $15 from either state or Federal funds when a particular case has some personal provision and needs less than the total allowed

Following essentially the same pro­cedure, the Act as passed provides for Federal assistance to the states in caring for the blind, a contribution by the state of up to $15 a month to be matched in turn by a like contribution by the Federal Government. The Act also contains provision for assistance to the states in pro­viding payments to dependent children under sixteen years of age. There also is provision in the Act for cooperation with medical and health organizations charged with rehabilitation of physically handi­capped children. The necessity for ade­quate service in the fields of public and maternal health and child welfare calls for the extension of these services to meet individual community needs. Con­sider for a moment those portions of the Act which, while they will not be effective this present year, yet will exert a profound and far-reaching effect upon millions of citizens. I refer to the provision for its system of old-age benefits supported by the contributions of employer and employ­ees, and to the section which sets up the initial machinery for unemployment in­surance.

Old-age benefits in the form of monthly payments are to be paid to individuals who have worked and contributed to the insurance fund in direct proportion to the total wages earned by such individ­uals in the course of their employment subsequent to 1936. The minimum monthly payment is to be $10, the maximum $85.

These payments will begin in the year 1942 and will be to those who have worked and contributed….

In conjunction with the system of old-age benefits, the Act recognizes that unem­ployment insurance is an integral part of any plan for the economic security of millions of gainfully employed workers. It provides for a plan of cooperative Fed­eral-state action by which a state may enact an insurance system, compatible with Federal requirements and best suited to its individual needs….

Federal legislation was framed in the thought that the attack upon the problems of insecurity should be a cooperative ven­ture participated in by both the Federal and state Governments, preserving the benefits of local administration and na­tional leadership. It was thought unwise to have the Federal Government decide all questions of policy and dictate com­pletely what the states should do. Only very necessary minimum standards are included in the Federal measure leaving wide latitude to the states….

This is truly legislation in the interest of national welfare. We must recognize that if we are to maintain a healthy economy and thriving production, we need to maintain the standard of living of the lower income groups of our population who constitute 90 per cent of our pur­chasing power. The President’s Committee on Economic Security, of which I had the honor to be chairman, in drawing up the plan, was convinced that its enactment into law would not only carry us a long way toward the goal of economic security for the individual, but also a long way toward the promotion and stabilization of mass purchasing power without which the present economic system cannot en­dure….

Our social security program will be a vital force working against the recurrence of severe depressions in the future. We can, as the principle of sustained pur­chasing power in hard times makes itself felt in every shop, store, and mill, grow old without being haunted by the specter of a poverty ridden old age or of being a burden on our children.

The cost of unemployment compensa­tion and old-age insurance are not actually additional costs. In some degree they have long been borne by the people, but ir­regularly, the burden falling much more heavily on some than on others, and none of such provisions offering an orderly or systematic assurance to those in need. The years of depression have brought home to all of us that unemployment entails huge costs to government, industry and the public alike.

Unemployment insurance will within a short time considerably lighten the public burden of caring for those unemployed. It will materially reduce relief costs in future years. In essence, it is a method by which reserves are built up during periods of employment from which com­pensation is paid to the unemployed in periods when work is lacking.

The passage of this act with so few dissenting votes and with so much in­telligent public support is deeply signif­icant of the progress which the American people have made in thought in the social field and awareness of methods of using cooperation through government to overcome social hazards against which the in­dividual alone is inadequate.


The New Deal Progressives (NDP) have pledged to double Social Security payments to America’s senior citizens.   Both Democrats and Republicans have worked to flatline Social Security payments; if Social Security gets an increase, then Medicare raises its rates, in effect, nullifying the SS increase.  So, even though the day-to-day cost of living for food, gas, rent, etc continues to increase for ordinary people, everyone gets pinched.