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The Historic Impact of the New Deal and the Social Security Act

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During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the New Deal, created by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was a series of programs devised to eliminate economic tragedy within the United States. One of these programs, the Social Security Act, seems to be the heart of the New Deal as a whole and the basis of returning the economy to a stable state. However, the Social Security Act is only beneficial to a certain group of people and many citizens oppose of it entirely. This is the case for a multiple other programs that the New Deal installs. The Social Security Act, although helpful for senior citizens and for those unemployed, does not help other groups of people and is opposed by the average working class citizen.

Senior citizens were considered to be the group of people that were most in poverty during the Great Depression. After retiring, elders were making no form of money to be able to maintain a simple life. Unless they had a stable savings account to survive them for life after working, a senior citizen had no money whatsoever. This also includes people whom were unemployed and unable to find a job with such an unstable economy. What got the idea of the Social Security Act started was the Townsend Plan, stating, “the National Government enact Legislation to the effect that all citizens of the United States—man or woman—over the age of 60 years may retire on a pension of $200 per month.”[1] With over 10 million people signing this petition and later being sent to the president, the Social Security Act was formed, while following similar guidelines that the Townsend Plan proposed.

Shortly after the Social Security Act was installed, advertisements were posted in order to promote the positivity it would bring. One poster stated from that time, “A monthly check to you, for the rest of your life beginning when you are 65.” [2] In return, another group of people would argue that they would not be receiving any sort of compensation, which was not positive for them at all. This group was African Americans. A man named Charles H. Houston argued to the National Association for the Advancement of Color People, “Negro share croppers and cash tenants would be excluded.” [3] During this time there were still many sharecroppers who didn’t make a wage to pay taxes. Therefore, they would never receive the old-age annuity. This goes for many African Americans who were domestic servants or worked in other environments that did not pay taxes. This led to the argument that despite elders being the worst off during the Great Depression, African American’s were the community that suffered the most before and after retirement.

While the elder citizens that have retired will be getting monthly checks, regular workers are not happy with the fact that more money is being taken out of their checks. For example, a regular working citizen wrote to the president stating, “the only thing we want from the president is for him to balance the budget and reduce taxes.” [4] By this, the author of the letter is meaning that the Social Security Act is the exact opposite of what most citizens want. They then go on to say that saving money while working for when you are an elder is what people should be doing instead of actually getting money from the government. Another citizen who wrote a letter states, “President R. security program is ridiculed and to all of us it is a great disappointment.” [5] Clearly upset with this program, this citizen gives examples as to what would be a better method of distributing wealth, such as taxing the upper class. To this citizen, the Townsend Plan was more like a fairy tale rather than something that would really work out in favor of everyone. Most citizens, as these two portrayed, did not believe that the New Deal or the Social Security Act in particular would benefit America or any common citizen during the Great Depression.

Although all American citizens had their judgments on the Social Security Act and the New Deal as a whole, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt also had his own perceptions of what would be best for the country. As the United States started making many changes when it came to industry and land, the needs for citizens changed and the fluctuating economy made citizens feel restless of what might occur to them economically in the future. In his perspective, the Social Security Act was supposed to help millions and give people protection from those fears. However, as he states, “We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen…” [6] FDR knew that this act would obviously not be able to help every citizen, but it would be able to help a vast amount. The main goal for FDR was not to please every citizen, because that would be impossible, but instead it was to get out of the current depression and to hopefully prevent a future depression.

All in all, if the New Deal programs or the Social Security Act were to appeal to all citizens a like, the country would have been at a balance. Or, perhaps if the bill was not as “voluminous” [7] as it was and much less complicated, as the LA Times states, citizens would have been happier. Neither of these are the cases, but instead many American citizens were left in poverty or having to pay the price for others. The intentions for the Social Security act were pure in that it intended to reform America from the depression it was in, only senior citizens and the unemployed reeked the benefits. Those who were average workers and did not agree with having to pay an additional expense, or African Americans who did not pay taxes still had to suffer the losses that others were able to gain.

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