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From Out of the Dust Bowl Came Social Security

Social Security, the social insurance program that helps millions of Americans, turned 80 years-old last month. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935. I had two serendipitous experiences this summer which brought to life the conditions leading to the creation of Social Security.

First, I visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. The Museum has an excellent exhibit of FDR’s life and presidency, including the events leading up to the Great Depression, the conditions during the 1930’s, and FDR’s response.

This is a shot of one of the many sections of the FDR memorial in Washington DC. In section a depression-era soup kitchen line is depicted. Shot 8-2-07.

In the early 1930s, following the stock market crash of 1928 and bank closures, there was massive unemployment. Millions of people couldn’t pay their mortgages and other debts. They lost their homes. Farmers were unable to sell the food they produced at a profit. They in turn could not pay the loans on their equipment and mortgages on their land. Hundreds of thousands of Americans roamed the country looking for work, food and shelter.

I also attended the stage performance Woody Guthrie’s American Song, a collection of Guthrie’s songs and writings. Guthrie, who grew up in Oklahoma, was in his twenties when drought in the mid-west created The Dust Bowl. Moneyless, hungry and with a family to support, he joined farmers and unemployed workers heading west to seek employment. While he rode the rails and worked at what jobs he could find, Guthrie recorded his and others’ experiences in songs and writings.

During the Great Depression, people across the nation lost everything they had – including their life savings. While younger people had time to rebuild their lives, elderly and retired Americans did not. More than half of older Americans were living in poverty. The 1935 Social Security Act was part of FDR’s response. It was designed to be a government-run social insurance program providing economic security to the elderly, dependent children, and the unemployed.

Social Security remains an important social insurance program today.  According to the Social Security Administration, over 59 million people currently receive Social Security benefits. Many workers have or currently contribute to the Social Security program through payroll tax or self-employment tax.  You can review your expected benefits at

Not having experienced the Great Depression, it is difficult to imagine losing everything, including livelihood, home and life savings, and living in such trying circumstances. Most Americans today don’t experience this, thanks to FDR’s leadership and persistence that lead to Social Security and other programs designed to keep complete financial disaster at bay.


This article is the first in a series of three on Understanding Social Security. This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

Social Security is quite complex with many rules and formulas determining who is eligible for benefits and when. If you have questions on your situation, please contact your local Social Security office or visit If you would like to read an in-depth report on Social Security, how it works, and thoughts on its future, check out “How Social Security Works in 2014” by Romina Boccia at

Blog text © 2015 by Money Care, LLC