America is a welfare state. When two-fifths of Americans receive income transfers from the government, and federal spending on retirement pensions, health care, and income security programs approaches one trillion dollars a year, one can hardly argue otherwise. In fact, over one half of the United States budget is expended on social insurance. Yet many commentators focus upon the relative backwardness of America in this regard. The U.S. system of social insurance is piecemeal, and far less comprehensive in coverage than most European systems. America appears the laggard in providing universal, comprehensive social care for its citizens. There is something to this claim, but one could as easily argue the real puzzle is actually quite the reverse. Faced with seemingly insuperable cultural, political, and constitutional obstacles, how did a welfare state come to be constructed in this country? The laws in this volume provide an answer to this question.
Presented in the following chapters are the laws that created the American system of social insurance. These laws are introduced chronologically. Each chapter develops the background and motivation for one of these laws, and the political actions and debates that surrounded its passage. The chapter then contains an explanation of the content of the law as actually enacted, and its contribution to the creation of the American welfare state. Edited excerpts from the laws follow each explanation. In several cases, where two laws were intimately connected, they are considered together. The 23 laws included in this volume constitute the most important pieces of American national social insurance legislation,