President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs into law the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935. Press photographers snapped pictures as FDR, flanked by ranking members of Congress, signed into law the historic act, which guaranteed an income for the unemployed and retirees. FDR commended Congress for what he considered to be a “patriotic” act.
Roosevelt had taken the helm of the country in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression, the nation’s worst economic crisis. The Social Security Act (SSA) was in keeping with his other “New Deal” programs, including the establishment of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, which attempted to hoist America out of the Great Depression by putting Americans back to work.
In his public statement that day, FDR expressed concern for “young people [who] have come to wonder what would be their lot when they came to old age” as well as those who had employment but no job security. Although he acknowledged that “we can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life,” he hoped the act would prevent senior citizens from ending up impoverished.
Although it was initially created to combat unemployment, Social Security now functions primarily as a powerful safety net for retirees and the disabled, and provides death benefits to taxpayer dependents. The Social Security system has remained popular and relatively unchanged since 1935.