Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present

By Mimi Abramovitz | Go to book overview

8
Old Age Insurance

Growing old in America has never been easy. The graying of America began in the early twentieth century. With more senior citizens living longer but working less, prolonged retirement suddenly became a new stage in life, requiring additional supports, just when the reverence for age ebbed and the social roles of older people began to shrink. With financial self-sufficiency increasingly difficult for all but the most affluent, the next generation was confronted with the worries and burdens of caring for their parents. The problem only intensified when the Depression pushed more elderly out of the labor force and left many young families jobless and homeless. Given the economic collapse, widespread social unrest, and a working class less able to sustain ordinary family life, political pressures for government pensions for the aged mounted. The state eventually stepped in, and the resulting new programs for the aged had enormous implications for women both as workers and caretakers in the home.

The 1935 Social Security Act included two types of economic assistance for adults age sixty-five or older: Old Age Insurance (OAI), a social insurance program for retired workers regardless of need, and Old Age Assistance (OAA), a public assistance program for the elderly poor. These programs, which helped to maintain the senior segment of the non-working population, indirectly enabled members of the younger generation to devote more resources to their immediate families, the current and future labor force. Few thought of "Social Security"--the popular name for the Old Age Insurance--as a family program because the 1935 Act covered retired workers but not their dependents or survivors. But the architects of the Act, the Committee

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