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Happy birthday to Social Security!

It was 1935 and the nation was suffering through the Great Depression. Millions of Americans were out of work and struggling to feed their families.

In August of that year, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law one of the most consequential bills in the country’s history – the 1935 Social Security Act.

This month we celebrate the 87th birthday of the Social Security program. Incredibly, the goals outlined in the preamble to the original legislation remain closely aligned to the program we know today.

An act to provide for the general welfare by establishing a system of Federal old-age benefits, and by enabling the several States to make more adequate provision for aged persons, blind persons, dependent and crippled children, maternal and child welfare, public health, and the administration of their unemployment compensation laws.

Considered a “radical” idea at the time, according to History.com, the bill created several new programs to provide economic security to those most in need, including:

  • An old-age pension program
  • Unemployment insurance funded by employers
  • Health insurance for people in financial distress
  • Financial assistance for widows with children
  • Financial assistance for disabled individuals


It was 15 months later in November 1936 that the U.S. Postal Service delivered the first social security card. While the exact number of the first card and to whom it was sent are unknown, media reports at the time said it went to 23-year-old John D. Sweeney, Jr. of New Rochelle, New York.

Today, more than 65 million people receive Social Security benefits each month. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that more than 8 million people receive disabled worker benefits while 7.6 million receive Supplemental Security Income.

You can learn more about the origins of social security and the many changes that Congress has made to the program over the past 87 years in the history section of the Social Security Administration website.

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