More than eight decades later, plenty of people are skeptical of Social Security. “Is the system failing?” and “Will I ever see a Social Security check?” are the typical questions. But President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew there would always be doubts even when he signed the Social Security Act into law August 14, 1935. In January 1935, Roosevelt had presented Congress with a request for legislation to provide a federal safety net for retirees and the unemployed. “We can never insure 100 percent of the population against 100 percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life,” he said. “But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”

A new way of paying for protections

When FDR moved into the White House in 1932, the country was mired in the suffering caused by the Great Depression. Part of his “New Deal” approach for getting the country back to work, this Social Security Act guaranteed an income for retirees and the unemployed. It had bipartisan support but still took almost eight months to make it through Congress. Part of its appeal was that it would not rely on annual federal budgets for operating funds. Instead, the law provided for taxes on wages and employer payrolls to bankroll the endeavor, a unique “pay it forward” strategy for the time. According to 1935 United Press International news wire coverage, the Social Security Act provided for “federal contributions of up to $15 a month a person, starting soon, to help states pension their most needy aged residents.” From that, “an estimated 25,000,000 workers and their employers will be taxed billions of dollars through the years, and workers will be paid $10 to $85 a month by the government when they are 65 and jobless,” UPI added.

Initial goals for the Social Security Act included prototypes of Medicare and Medicaid. But those concepts were axed in the final bill after complaints from the health care industry. Another president known by his initials, LBJ, would realize FDR’s dream though. He signed an expanded Social Security bill that included the two federal health insurance programs in 1965.