John G. Winant
SOCIAL SECURITY BOARD
Press Service, Room 402
1712 G Street, N.W.
DI. 2812, Ext. 2970-1
John G. Winant
Text of Radio Address of
Hon. John G. Winant, Chairman,
Social Security Board,
on the Program of the National Radio Forum,
sponsored by the Washington, Evening Star;
National Broadcasting Company,
December 28, 1936.
In the closing pages of Rubinow's great book on "The Quest for Security," he tells us that to build conditions to make a happier life possible must be the purpose of the new state. And then he adds: "But underlying all other reforms and changes there must be one to make such a happier life possible. There must be economic security. Both the hope and the fact of security. Misery must be eliminated, or at least insured against. The fear of destitution must be destroyed."
At the year's end it seems fitting and proper to review actions taken to bring administration into alignment with legislation.
At Christmas time we are touched by the warmth of generous giving and look toward the future with new hope.
Social Security represents an advance in the relationship of men--one with another, and of society toward the individual. For the first time on a wide front the National Government has concerned itself with the welfare of the family. In this legislation it has carried out a promise of American life, set forth in the Declaration of Independence, included within the limits of the preamble of the Constitution of the United States and resting on the spirit of the Golden Rule.
In this legislation, necessity, that kindly stepmother of most of us, has touched the tap roots of human aspirations and an industrialized democracy has given answer to hunger needs by accepting this measure because self-preservation supported by deep religious conviction has demanded it--and let no man understand otherwise.
Under this concept of a people's government the welfare of men should no longer be left entirely to chance or charity or to their own inadequate devices, to protect themselves from menaces to their existence entirely beyond their control. The Social Security program aims to help people, not to hurt them, to remove some of the fears that harass human lives, and to eliminate some of the harsher uncertainties of everyday living.
The major hazards of life have changed their form and their intensity. Throughout most of history the violence of war has menaced men's security, and, in spite of all the rules set up to control it, this menace persists. Though science has robbed pestilence and plague of their allotted toll, the human body is as frail as it was five thousand years ago, and sickness, idleness, accident and old age are still common penalties of human kind. And though drought and flood and other calamities of nature are not yet entirely controllable, the suffering that results from them can be mitigated by the action of government.
At the worst, these causes of insecurity are intermittent. But poverty knows no armistice. It has seemed inseparable from our economic system--a constant rebuke to its boasted efficiency. For, in spite of all our sensational material achievements, our leaders of modern industry themselves say that we have failed to balance our capacity to consume with our capacity to produce. We have failed to give work to all those who would work. And while we have built up fortunes unheard of in times past, we have failed to provide the average worker with a wage that would insure him against dependence and privation in his old age. To preach thrift to a man who tries to support himself and a family on $20 a week will not solve the economic problem of his later years--not to mention any period of prolonged unemployment. It is not enough to tell him that this is still a land of boundless opportunity--when no jobs are available. It does no good to remind him that we have the highest standard of living on earth, if he cannot share in it. The fact remains that this average worker must work for another in order to live. He cannot go to the frontier, as many once did, for the frontier is c1osed out. He cannot emigrate to a newer land, as his ancestors did, for economic nationalism has to a large extent closed international borders. He must stay where he is and make the best of it, and that best is often not too good.
Grace Abbott pointed this out in a recent paper when she suggested that "change and growth have especially characterized American industry. While these changes have eventually meant industrial progress, more comforts and a better standard of living for us all," John Stuart Mill's warning to Great Britain nearly a century ago that "one group of workers is sacrificed to the gains of their fellow citizens and posterity" still holds.
This situation is the natural result of a trend that has been developing for a long time. This trend has become more intense during the present century. Briefly, the change has been from the simple economy of early days when the average worker was his own master, to a highly complex industrial order, based on specialized technical knowledge and great financial power. Some employers have sincerely tried to cushion the impact of these vast forces on their employees by one means or another.
But the problem cannot be solved by the efforts of a few enlightened and social-minded industrialists. It had reached proportions where only the Federal Government, working in cooperation with the States, could handle it. And yet it is no untried experiment that we are embarking on. It is part of a world movement.
In contrast with Great Britain the United States was quite unprepared to meet the depression.
The very fact that the contraction there reached only about ten percent while national income here went from eighty-three billion to approximately forty billion from 1929 to 1932 while a corresponding greater control over unemployment and an orderly and systemized care of the sick and the aged was met by them under legislative action taken years before and with a trained personnel to administer their social program while we here only with heroic effort under emergency measures and at great cost were able to prevent far greater injury and loss of life than was suffered by us in the World War, with the most demoralized labor market yet experienced by a civilized country, should prompt us to build constructively against a reoccurence of economic collapse and further to recognize the relationship between social justice and economic stability.
No one realizes better than we do, who administer it, the short-comings of this law. But we also recognize that there can be no finality to its form until every practical effort has been made to perfect it in the light of actual experience. We do know that it holds out to the average man, beset by anxiety for his very livelihood, the promise of some degree of protection against insecurity. We do know that because of what we are doing he can face the chance of unemployment and the certainty of old age with a freer heart.
It is not too early, to make an accounting of what we have so lately started. Much has been crowded into these few months of beginnings. The Act was not implemented with funds until February 11 of this year. Since that time, a million and a half persons have been directly benefited under the programs for public assistance administered by the Social Security Board.
Since that time nearly seventeen million persons have been brought within the scope of unemployment compensation laws which have been passed by thirty-five States. This means that almost 80% of all those that may be included are to be protected against the temporary hazards of involuntary idleness by action already taken.
Since the Social Security Act became law, funds of the Federal Government have been made available to every State and to three territories for public health purposes, to forty-seven States and territories for vocational rehabilitation, and to every State and territory within the scope of the Act for maternal and child welfare work. Literally millions of Americans in all walks of life have benefited and will continue to benefit from these expenditures.
Let us keep clearly in mind that the sections of the law administered by the Social Security Board are in three categories:
First, public assistance,
Second, unemployment compensation,
Third, the system of Federal Old-Age Benefits.
I should like to review briefly the progress made in each of these fields.
The Act recognizes the need for Federal participation to aid States to care for dependency. This form of assistance cannot be met on a temporary or emergency basis. It calls for along-time and nation-wide program. The Act makes grants possible to every State in the Union. It provides a flexible but integrated framework of Federal and State cooperation.
With Federal cooperation and financial assistance, the States are developing more effective administrative organizations, are raising their standards of assistance and service, and are caring for their needy aged and blind and for their dependent children more adequately then they could alone. At the end of 1935, a total of 373,000 of the needy aged were receiving assistance under State plans. Today, only a year later, Federal assistance makes it possible for the 42 participating jurisdictions to aid over 1,100,000 of the needy aged. While the increase in the numbers of individuals receiving assistance has been greatest in the case of the aged, the present totals of about 32,000 for the needy blind and 290,000 for dependent children represent a substantial increase over the numbers aided in the same States prior to the passage of the Act.
With the exception of one or two States; it may be said that all predominately industrial States have made provision for the protection of men and women in periods of forced idleness.
Prior to 1935 when the Social Security Act came into existence, only one State, Wisconsin, had made provision for compensation to the unemployed worker. Three-fourths of the State are now participating in this program.
Unemployment compensation is not a cure-all. It was not intended that it should be the solution of the broad problem of unemployment. This feature of the Social Security program was designed to protect employed men and women against the wreckage of temporary unemployment; to guarantee to them at least a subsistence income, not as charity, but as a right, during periods when they are looking for other work.
As the year draws to a close the foundation for the Federal Old-Age Benefits is being completed. Close to twenty-five million persons participated in the recent registration. Over twenty-two million workers have applied for social security accounts in order to insure their rights to old-age benefits. Many applications are still coming in. These millions of applications represent a unity of purpose and a spirit of cooperation unequaled in any country and, although the largest project of its kind ever attempted in the United States it has been accomplished almost without comment. The Post Office Department with more than 45,000 offices and its friendly and efficient personnel and the Government Printing Office with other Departments of the Government have mate this possible.
At the Wage Records Office of the Social Security Board, trained personnel, with efficient mechanical equipment, have been taking the millions of applications and translating them into permanent, individual social security ledger accounts.
You might be interested to know that the total permanent personnel employed to date under the Social Security Board is 2,000. We also engaged 2,000 additional temporary workers to assist during this enumeration period.
Not only have millions of persons already benefited directly from the operations of the Social Security Act, with countless other millions as potential beneficiaries, but also the Nation as a whole will feel the lift of it. The stabilizing effect on purchasing power affects industry, commerce, agriculture and therefore employment; human costs will be more equitably distributed, improved administration will result when social needs are placed on a more orderly basis.
To those who have had any part in this work we are deeply grateful. The cooperation of all concerned--employers, employees, Government workers and the public has been inspiring to those of us who are entrusted with the administration of the law. May I thank you, and wish you a very Happy New Year and security in all the good things of life.