Wikimedia Commons FDR signs the Social Security Act at 3:30 p.m. on August 14, 1935.

Social Security Here and Abroad

IT CAME as a distinct shock to many of us when President Roosevelt some time ago commented on the fact that in providing security for the mass of the people the United States is some twenty-five years behind most of Europe. A country which has always prided itself on the high standard of living among its working people was disconcerted to learn that other nations had gone much further along the road of assuring their people the maintenance of a decent standard of living in both good times and bad. The depression had no doubt brought home to many the realization that high wages and economic security are by no means synonymous. But it was not generally realized -- perhaps it is hardly yet grasped in its full import -- that in Europe, in spite of the long drawn out severity of the depression, under the protection of social insurance measures the people have suffered much less severely, both in numbers and degree, than have our own workers.

That even in times of apparent prosperity we had an appalling amount of suffering and destitution due to the lack of protection against the ordinary hazards of life can be seen from the fact that there was a steadily growing need for public and private charity, for social welfare work, and for immense "drives" by community chests and individual organizations. Actually it is estimated that in 1929, at the height of our most glittering prosperity, there were at least 2,000,000 unemployed in the United States and hundreds of thousands incapacitated by industrial or other accidents, of whom the great majority were eventually compelled to seek some form of charitable aid. Had this country had some or all of the social security measures in vogue in Europe, most of these people would have been tided over their period of misfortune by financial assistance due them as a matter of contractual right, for which provision had been made during normal earning years.

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