Social Security at 80: Lessons Learned

Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works

Social Security was signed into law eighty years ago, on August 14, 1935. In those eight decades, it has taught us a number of important lessons.

Social Security has demonstrated that there are some undertakings that government does better than the private sector. Social Security is more efficient, universal, secure, and fair than any counterpart private sector arrangement is or could be.

Social Security has also taught us that some people hate government no matter how effective it is, and will say just about anything to prevent its good work. Indeed, these opponents of government fight hardest when a government program works well, because it undermines their bias that government is the problem, when government is, in truth, often the best or even the only solution. And so they really hate Social Security. It works so extraordinarily well that it is a shining example of government at its best.

Social Security has transformed the nation. Before Social Security, growing old was something to be dreaded. In 1912, a writer described what it was like to grow old:

“After the age of sixty has been reached, the transition from non-dependence to dependence is an easy stage – property gone…ambitions collapsed, with death a final and welcome end to it all – such conclusions inevitably sweep wage-earners from the class of hopeful independent citizens into that of the helpless poor.”

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