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Where it Began: the Social Security Program

By Christina October 21, 2019

In 2017, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued approximately $950 billion in Social Security benefits to over sixty million Americans of various ages, races, and genders—and the benefit amounts ranged from children of disabled workers receiving an average of $300/month and retirees receiving an average benefit of $1,413.00/month. Benefits issued from SSA provide a source of income for survivors of deceased workers, retirees, and disabled individuals and others, as well as health insurance for the disabled and aged and income supplements to aged or disabled individuals living below the poverty line. Over course of the next several months, we will be publishing a series of blog posts that delve into the history of the Social Security program and how it developed to where it is today.


On August 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law, issuing a new wave of “social insurance” created to provide retiring workers with a steady source of income after their retirement. Founded in the early part of the 20th Century after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, the Social Security Act answered calls that were made to address economic security needs. Over the next several years, the program started to come together through the creation of a Social Security Board and the issuing of Social Security Numbers (SSN) to workers. From there, payroll contributions began to start funding the program, Social Security Cards were issued, and field offices began to open to serve the public.


In Austin, Texas on October 14, 1936 the first Social Security Administration field office was opened—and just over 80 years later there are over 1,200 field offices in service across the country. The first lump-sum Social Security payment was issued to Mr. Ernest Ackerman in the amount of $0.17 in January of 1937, with the first monthly benefit check being issued to Ms. Ida May Fuller for $22.54 three years later in January of 1940. The program continued to expand over the next decade, taking in payroll contributions (aptly renamed to the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or FICA, in 1939) and issuing checks to retired beneficiaries. It was not until August 28, 1950 that the first Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) was made after President Harry S. Truman signed the 1950 Amendments to the Social Security Act and a whopping seventy-seven percent increase was issued to each retiree!


It has been over sixty years since the amendments of 1950 were signed and since then the SSA has gone through distinct changes and expansions. Over the course of the past sixty years, many implementations were made to the program to bring it where it is today, providing over sixty million people with financial benefits that help them pay bills, continue caring for their families, and access the healthcare/resources they need. Join us next month as we discuss the “middle age” of the program and some of the major transformations that took place.



Annual Statistical Supplement to the Social Security Bulletin, 2016 (SSA Publication No. 13-11700, May 2017)

Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2017 (SSA Publication No. 13-11785, September 2017)

Historical Background And Development of Social Security (https://www.ssa.gov/history/briefhistory3.html)

Social Security Beneficiary Statistic https://www.ssa.gov/oact/STATS/OASDIbenies.html


This post was written by Lauryn, a Benefit Coordinator.

Nothing in this post is intended as advice or a suggestion to elect or not elect to claim benefits of any kind, including Social Security benefits, nor is it intended as financial advice in any way.  The decision to claim benefits is a personal one that is contingent upon each individual’s unique circumstances.

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