The Social Security Act
Amendments of 1950
Franklin Roosevelt never gave up his dream of a comprehensive social insurance system for all Americans. In his penultimate state of the union address, he called for an “economic bill of rights” that would add medical care and disability insurance to an expanded Old Age and Survivors Insurance Program (OASI) that would cover everyone in the United States. However, he was unable to make any progress toward these goals before his death. Part of the reason was World War II. But resistance to new or expanded social programs remained strong. In fact, Congress repeatedly refused even to implement the Social Security tax increases that had been scheduled in the 1939 Amendments. As a result, the existing program was starved of revenue, and the monthly benefits to retirees were not increased.
The odd result was that, for most senior citizens, the old-age assistance poverty program remained more important than OASI (“Social Security”). By 1949, only one in five retired workers received a social security pension. This was only half the number that received an old-age assistance stipend. Moreover, the average oldage assistance payment was $42 a month, while the average social security check was but $25 a month.1 Frustrated reformers eventually seized on this discrepancy. They called for a new start for the Social Security program, one that would reward work over welfare, and one that would truly include all Americans.
Their efforts ended in another set of amendments to the 1935 Social Security Act. While the amendments made a number of changes to the act, four stand out. Social Security was made a vir-