In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America

By Alice Kessler-Harris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Questions of Equity

In the spring of 2000, the Republican congressional leadership proposed, and Congress unanimously passed, a revision of the nation's Social Security code that lifted restrictions on earnings for people under the age of seventy. The new law allowed every contributor over the age of sixty-five to receive a full old age pension regardless of whether he or she continued to earn wages. Exuberant praise and congratulatory public comments greeted this expansion of benefits in one of the country's most beloved social programs. This, said the New York Times, “is one of those exceptional government initiatives that hardly anyone faults publicly, ” and it quoted a reigning lobbyist to the effect that it was “good labor policy, good social policy and good economic policy.” 1 The twenty-two-billion-dollar price tag, commentators noted with satisfaction, would be recouped after barely a decade—offset by a technical change that rescinded higher benefits to those between sixtyfive and seventy who remained in the workforce. This bill was not about money;it was about a new consensus, forged during a time of labor shortages, to encourage the elderly to stay at work longer. Yet it cogently invoked a concept of fairness that no one involved in the original Social Security Act would have recognized. “Older Americans, ” said a Texas congressman, “can work, they want to work and they shouldn't be punished by an outdated law if they choose to work.” 2

The notion that aging individuals who wished to earn wages should be encouraged to do so flatly contradicted the ideas behind Title II of the original act. Drafted by the Committee on Economic Security and passed in 1935, when the nation faced a 25 percent unemployment rate, it aimed to remove people from the workforce, not keep them in it. 3 Its purpose, recalled Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong, one of the designers, was “not only to protect the older worker from no earnings income, but it was also to get him out of the labor

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In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1 - The Responsibilities of Life 19
  • Chapter 2 - Maintaining Self-Respect 64
  • Chapter 3 - Questions of Equity 117
  • Chapter 4 - A Principle of Law but Not of Justice 170
  • Chapter 5 - What Discriminates? 203
  • Chapter 6 - What's Fair? 239
  • Epilogue 290
  • Notes 297
  • Index 365
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