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An anniversary for Social Security and a nod to its first beneficiary

Ida Mae Fuller received the very first Social Security benefit and ended up living until she was 100 years old.

Social Security cards
REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

Sunday was the anniversary of the day in 1935 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. Critics decried the program as “socialism,” which it is, of a mild and democratic sort, but hardly anyone complains about it nowadays.

In fact, Social Security might be the single most popular program the federal government operates. Even Republicans, who despise such programs in theory (it’s a tax, it’s mandatory, it has a somewhat progressive or redistributive benefit structure, which means it helps the poor more than the rich), don’t dare criticize it much and never talk about getting rid of it.

The Social Security Act has many other provisions, but the big one is that it requires workers and their employers to contribute every pay period to a trust fund during their working years and enables retirees to receive benefits – a pension of sorts – starting at any age between 62 and 70 (the longer you wait, the bigger the monthly check).

You probably knew all that, but I thought I’d observe the anniversary.

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I’m 71 and have started getting my benefits and will get them until I croak. Pretty cool. Really helps. I haven’t calculated how long I’ll have to live to get all my contributions (and the contributions of my various employers) back, plus interest. But it’s not an investment program. It’s an insurance program, which insures us all a bit against not being able to pay for our retirement years.

Social Security is also, as I said above, socialism of a sort. It’s mandatory. There’s no guarantee you’ll get back more than you pay in (although most recipients do). It’s also an anti-poverty program of a sort, which conservatives are supposed to hate, because it has a somewhat progressive benefit structure.

I bring it up mostly to observe the anniversary – and also to gig the knucklehead red-baiting Right, who should be calling for the abolition of this bit of socialism but don’t dare.

Plus, I enjoy the tale of Ida Mae Fuller, who worked under (and paid into) Social Security for three years, then retired and received the very first Social Security benefit (Social Security check number 00-000-001, for $22.54) and ended up living until she was 100 years old and collecting $22,888.92 in total benefits.

God rest ye, Ida Mae, beneficiary of socialism.

Here’s a link to a smarter lookback at Social Security’s origins, part of Heather Cox Richardson’s series “Letters from an American.”

Richardson’s piece doesn’t mention Ida May Fuller but does celebrate Frances Perkins, the first-ever woman in the cabinet, who, as secretary of Labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt, is credited by Richardson as the “driving force” behind the Social Security law.