THE SEARCH FOR SECURITY
The Depression exposed the insecurity of life in modern America. As people watched the scourge of unemployment strike indiscriminately at every segment of society, they suddenly felt vulnerable and helpless. Remembering those days, a former white-collar employee of a publishing house recalled:
Everyone was emotionally affected. We developed a fear of the future which was very difficult to overcome. Even though I eventually went into some fairly good jobs, there was still this constant dread: everything would be cut out from under you and you wouldn't know what to do. It would be even harder, because you were older. 1
Facing an uncertain future, Americans finally recognized that not only unemployment but also old age, sickness, and fatherless families produced widespread poverty. In search of security against want, the country sought ways to cushion individuals against hazards beyond their control.
Advocates of government-sponsored social security won a series of victories during the 1930s. Although a small band of reformers had long campaigned for protection against the various causes of economic dependency, they had little success until the Depression brought massive destitution. 2 After the collapse of the economy focused public attention on the need for enhanced security, New York adopted a number of measures designed to guarantee a minimum standard of living for specific groups such as the unemployed and the aged. Often acting in concert with Washington, the Empire State extended both public assistance to relieve want and social insurance to keep people from becoming public charges. The enactment of this legislation marked another step in New York's acceptance of the Welfare State.