Published Date

February 1, 1946

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 5: Why Do We Have a Social Security Law? (1946)

Many intelligent people think that our present system of social security, while good, should be made better. Others, just as intelligent, feel that it is satisfactory as it stands and that any attempt to improve it would bring about more evil than good.

Here are some of the broad changes recommended by the Social Security Board for our present social security programs as a whole:

  • Bring all Americans who work for a living under one comprehensive national social insurance system.
  • Cover the costs of hospital and medical care and insure against total loss of income due to sickness and disability, as well as to unemployment, old age, and death.
  • Secure the social security rights of men and women in the armed services.
  • Broaden the public assistance programs so that the federal government can help the states give adequate aid to all needy people.
  • What are some of the arguments for and against changing our social security system?


Broadening the coverage

Those who argue for broader coverage say that the system is good as far as it goes, but that it doesn’t cover enough people.

Those arguing against say that the expense of providing proper coverage to such groups as small businessmen, farm and domestic workers, and similar people, would cost far more than the benefits would be worth.

A federal system

Those arguing for a unified national system for all kinds of social insurance point out that business, travel, shipping, and communication in America are nation-wide, and no longer statewide or county-wide. They argue that just as goods are sold and shipped across state boundaries and workers migrate from state to state, so social insurance should cross state boundaries, too. They claim that wherever a worker travels he should be protected by the same regulations and receive the same benefits.

Those arguing against a federal system believe that the job of looking after workers’ security belongs in the hands of his neighbors and friends. They further argue that the strength of our democracy lies in the fact that it has its roots in 48 states and 3,000 county governments and that to centralize power in Washington might lead to dangerous abuses.

Increased benefits

Those arguing for increased benefits feel that the present benefits are too small to maintain anyone on a decent American standard.

Those arguing against increased benefits say that the present amounts are all that sound risks for the capital involved warrant, that to raise benefits would place a heavy burden on working people and force companies to cut wages and raise the price of their products.

Those who argue for larger benefits and longer duration also say that payment of unemployment benefits would increase purchasing power and keep business in high gear. Those who argue against increased benefits say that benefits should not approach earnings when the worker is actually employed because this would encourage idleness.

Disability compensation

More than 2 million persons of working age are disabled. At any one time, some 3 1/2 million persons in the United States have disabilities which have lasted 6 months or more. From a third to a half of these are persons aged 15 to 65, many of whom would normally be working. On the average, one out of every three or four wage earners in the United States is kept from working by temporary sickness or injury in the course of a year.

Only a small fraction of workers suffering from temporary illness or injury or permanent disability can draw workmen’s compensation. This is because most of them are not disabled by accidents resulting from their jobs. Workmen’s compensation protects workers only against injury on the job and, in a few states, against disease resulting from conditions on the job.

Other countries have found disability insurance practicable. Thirty-two nations of the world have insurance against temporary disability. The United States is one of only three countries in the world which provide unemployment insurance without disability insurance too.

Health insurance

If an insured person is out of work because he cannot find a job, he gets unemployment benefits. But if he is sick and cannot work, he gets no benefits in any but one state. More than one-fifth of our city families with low incomes spend over $100 a year for medical care. Many have sickness expenses totaling one-fourth and even one-half of their entire family income.

More than a billion man-days are lost each year because of sickness or accident. In an ordinary year total loss in wages from temporary disability may be estimated at between 3 and 4 billion dollars; costs of medical service both public and private total from 4 to 5 billion dollars. There are no nation-wide social insurance measures to protect American families against these economic risks.

For these reasons some Americans have urged broadening the provisions of our social insurance system to include health insurance, too.

Next section: Where Does the Money Come From?