Social History for Every Classroom


Social History for Every Classroom

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What is Social Security?

This brief overview describes how the Social Security program originated during the Great Depression and how the program works.

President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law in 1935. Social Security is a federal government program that takes money out of working people’s paychecks and creates a fund that gives that money to the elderly when they retire, or stop working. Social Security is also a form of protection; if an adult gets sick and cannot work, or if a working family member dies his/her family can get money from Social Security. Workers had to have money taken out of their paychecks during their working lives in order to be eligible to receive social security payments when they retired or became ill. In the 1930s, most Americans supported Social Security because they saw it as insurance that they bought with the taxes that were taken out of their own paychecks. However, some people opposed Social Security because they did not want the government to take money away from them and give it to unemployed or poor people. Originally, not all jobs and workers qualified for Social Security. For example, maids and farm workers, jobs typically held by women and African Americans, did not pay into and could not receive money from Social Security. Today, Social Security includes more jobs and people than it did in the 1930s, and is the most important retirement system in the United States.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “What is Social Security?,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 18, 2021,

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