Committee on Economic Security (CES)

Volume VI. Social Insurance

K. Miscellaneous Studies

by Wilbur J. Cohen

May 16, 1935

Facts Regarding the Blind in the United States.

The 1930 Census listed 63,489 people as being blind. This is at a rate of 52 blind people for each 100,000 in the total population. There are, however, great differences between the States in this ratio, the range being from 30 per 100,000 in New Jersey, to 143 per 100,000 in New Mexico.

All people who have studied the problem are agreed that the Census understates the number of the blind in this country. The major reason for this understatement appears to be that many of the census takers neglect to ask the question whether any member in the household is blind. Further, there is no agreement as to the degree of loss of vision which constitutes blindness. There are probably at least 100,000 people in this country who are blind within the definition of the term used in State blind pension laws.

Among the blind the older people predominate. Of all the blind listed in the census, 28,113 were above 65 years of age, this being more than 40 percent of the total number of the blind; another 17,814 were from 45 to 64 years of age.

The great majority of all the blind are needy. Of all of the blind in the United States listed in the census of 1920, only 7,177 reported that they were gainfully occupied. Similar data is not available from the census of 1930, but it is not likely that the percentage is greatly increased. Not more than 15 to 20 percent of all of the blind are gainfully occupied, and most of those who are so classified are not entirely self-supporting.

State Legislation for the Blind.

State legislation for the blind has taken four principal forms:
(1) educational and vocational training, principally of blind children; (2) workshops for the adult blind, maintained with State assistance; (3) field work in locating the blind, extending to them medical and similar assistance, help in procuring employment, and assistance in the marketing of products produced by the blind; and (4) cash pensions to the blind.

Education and vocational training is carried on principally in State schools for the blind and in special day classes established in connection with the public school system, particularly in urban centers. There are also a considerable number of private institutions of this character.

Workshops for the blind have long been maintained as State institutions, and are also conducted by private organizations. In these workshops adult blind people carry on some occupations for which they have training, particularly basket weaving, rug-making, etc. The number of blind people employed in such special workshops has never exceeded a few thousand.

All but 10 States carry on some field work for the blind. In 13 States, however, expenditures for this purpose are less than $5.00 for each blind person in the State. A minimum expenditure of $25.00 per blind person is generally regarded as necessary, but only 6 States have expenditures of this amount for this purpose: Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire and New York.

Twenty-two States now have laws providing for pensions for the blind. These are the States of Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. No complete data is at hand regarding the expenditures of these

States for blind pensions. From the latest reports, it would appear, however, than in 18 of these States there was a total of 22,887 pensioners. Allowing for the four States for which no reports are available, the total number of pensioners can be estimated at 25,000. The total expenditures for blind pensions in 17 States were $5,024,577. The average pension paid was $20.85 per month, with a range of from $9.89 in Ohio to $32.86 in California.

The existing old-age pension laws differ considerably in their pro-visions. Most of the laws establish a minimum age, which is most commonly either 18 or 21 years, but California has a 16 year minimum, Colorado a 40 year minimum, and Louisiana a 60 year minimum. Most States also prescribe a specified residence period within the State, which is most commonly 5 years; 11 States, however, have a higher residence requirement, with 10 years as the maximum. All States have a means qualification, which is similar to the property and income qualification in old-age assistance laws. The maximum pensions payable range from $150.00 per year in New Hampshire, to $600.00 per year in California, Kansas, Nevada, and Utah. More States have a maximum of $300.00 per year than any other amount, but 10 States have a higher maximum. Of the 22 Acts, 15 are mandatory throughout the State, while 7 are discretionary with the county authorities. The administration is generally vested in designated county authorities, but in a considerable number of States supervision by some State agency is provided for. Three States, Maine, New Jersey and New York provide for direct State administration.

Amendments to the Social Security Bill Suggested by Organizations Interested in the Blind.

The two organizations interested in the blind which entered appearances in the hearings on the Social Security Act were the American Foundation for the Blind and the National Society for the Prevention of Blindness, both of which have their headquarters in New York. These organizations presented substantially the same suggestions for amendments to the Social Security Act (but with some minor differences).

The amendment upon which greatest stress was laid was an appropriation of $1,500,000 per year for Federal aid to the States for field work with the blind. One million dollars of this appropriation, it was suggested, should be distributed $10,000 to each State and the balance in proportion to the number of blind persons in the State, and the remaining $500,000 should be a free fund to be allotted by the Secretary of Labor to the States in such amounts as she deems advisable.

In addition to this major amendment, the representatives of these organizations favored two of the amendments to the Social Security Act. One of these was an amendment to Title I to permit the States to include within their old-age assistance laws all blind people who are over 50 years of age. The other was an amendment to the section of the bill relating to crippled children to include within the scope of the Federal aid for this purpose children suffering with impaired vision.

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