Senior Living



Social Security and You: Change Is Nothing New to Social Security

Tom Margenau on

I continually remind my readers that they shouldn't worry too much when they read or hear reports of Social Security's imminent collapse. Once Congress works up the nerve to deal with the issue (and once the American people accept the fact that the program needs reform), they will get around to passing amendments to the Social Security laws that will keep the program solvent for generations to come. And this will really be nothing new.

Almost every year since the Social Security Act was passed in 1935, there have been amendments to that original law. Many years, they are simply minor technical adjustments. But some years, they include major changes to the program. Here is a brief summary of how the Social Security program has evolved over the years.


The original law provided benefits only for a retired worker aged 65 or older.


Even before the first monthly benefits were paid in 1940, these amendments added many provisions to the original law. They included benefits for a dependent wife 65 and older and for the minor children of a retiree. They also added the first survivors benefits: for a widow aged 65 or older; for the minor children of a deceased worker; for a widowed mother of any age caring for those children; and for dependent parents of a deceased worker.



Congress must have realized the 1939 amendments were sexist because this year they added benefits for a dependent husband of a retired woman and for a dependent widower aged 65 or older. They also provided benefits for a retiree's dependent wife of any age as long as she was caring for his minor child. And for the first time, Congress realized that not all marriages last forever. They included benefits for a divorced widowed mother caring for the minor child of a deceased worker, but only if she was married at least 20 years.


These amendments added a major new Social Security program: disability benefits. This first law offered monthly benefits only for disabled people over age 50. But in a few years, disability benefits were made available to people of all ages. Provisions were also added to pay monthly benefits to disabled adult children of retired, disabled and deceased workers. And for the first time, Congress recognized that not all senior citizens wanted to wait until age 65 to claim benefits. Initially, they offered earlier benefits only to women. They provided reduced retirement benefits for women between ages 62 and 64 and reduced spousal benefits for dependent wives and widows between ages 62 and 64.


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