August 05,2015

Wyden Floor Statement Marking the 80th Anniversary of Social Security

As Prepared for Delivery

I want to take a few minutes today to celebrate the upcoming 80th anniversary of an extraordinary moment in our great nation’s history: the creation of the Social Security program on August 14th, 1935. I am proud to be joined today by every one of my colleagues from this side of the aisle in the introduction of a resolution honoring this historic anniversary.

Thanks in large part to Social Security, old age in America is not synonymous with hardship. And American workers have the great comfort of knowing that if the worst happens, Social Security will be there to support them and their families.

I remember how absolutely essential Social Security was to many of the older people I worked with when I was Director of the Oregon Gray Panthers. However, eight short decades ago, seniors often lived in poverty, and hard-working Americans had no guarantee of economic security.

The United States was still in the throes of the Great Depression. Unemployment topped 20 percent, bread lines stretched for whole city blocks, and the homeless population was growing. Back then, there was no social safety net—no lifeline of support. If someone lost their job, became disabled, or suffered the loss of a family member, they were on their own with nowhere to turn.

Life was difficult for most Americans, but none more so than the poor, the elderly, or the disabled, who were often treated like second-class citizens. Tragically, many aging and disabled Americans without family to care for them ended up destitute or on the street.

America is a different place today, thanks in no small part to the protection that Social Security offers. Social Security forms some of the strongest threads in America’s safety net. It protects the livelihoods of millions of people, and keeps millions more out of poverty.

This year, nearly 60 million American workers and eligible family members will receive nearly $900 billion in retirement, survivors, or disability benefits, combined. Among older Social Security beneficiaries, more than half of married couples and nearly three quarters of unmarried individuals get the majority of their income from Social Security.

As of 2014, 151 million Americans had earned the protection of disability insurance. That is a tremendous accomplishment -- 151 million workers and their families who, because of Social Security, can go about their days with the confidence that they are financially protected in the event of a medical catastrophe.

Social Security also provides indispensable benefits for nearly seven million children nationwide. Without those benefits, many of these youngsters would face truly dire circumstances after the death or disability of a parent.  

None of this would have been possible without the continued support of Congress. Over the last 80 years, time and time again, members have come together on a bipartisan basis to ensure this vital program remains strong.

The 1939 Amendments to Social Security expanded retirement benefits by providing payments to spouses and dependents of aged workers, as well as new aid for the spouses and families of workers who pass away.

In 1954, Congress passed amendments that provided protection for workers who become disabled. It was the beginning of the Social Security Disability Insurance program. Additional amendments in 1956 established a cash benefit payment for disabled workers over age 50, as well as disabled adult children.

The Social Security Amendments of 1980 and 1983 also made important changes that helped ensure the program’s long-term viability.

Social Security is one of America’s great economic success stories. The program is strong and robust, and in my view, there is big, bipartisan interest in keeping it that way. So I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure Social Security continues to thrive for generations to come.