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Unformatted text preview: Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 70, No. 3, 2010 79 Introduction The history of the United States is in many ways exceptional, giving rise to an important body of academic research propounding “the American exception.” This notion of exceptionalism is however not so easily applied to its principal national social insurance program, Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI). Adopted by Congress in 1935, the Social Security Act was landmark legislation that established not only an old-age insurance program but also mandatory unemployment insurance and fund- ing for state-administered old-age assistance. The United States was a relative latecomer in covering its employed workers with compulsory old-age insurance, and perhaps for this reason it is not surprising that the U.S. program was largely inspired by continental European models, particularly the German example, in the 20 or more years preceding its adoption. The OASDI program today exhibits in many respects the same classic social insurance principles that can be found in several other national old-age insurance systems. However, after 75 years, some features of the OASDI program appear to be particularly character- istic of the U.S. approach to old-age income security. The discussion that follows singles out three of the more striking characteristics of the U.S. program, compares them with relevant foreign experience, and in conclusion raises the question of whether these characteristics still have signiFcant implications for the program’s future. The discussion begins with a look at the historical context of U.S. Social Security. Origins of U.S. Social Security in an International Context Most historians of U.S. Social Security have expressed both wonder and puzzlement as to how a virtually full-blown social insurance program could have been incorporated in the 1935 Social Security Act. The task of the principal drafters working for the Committee on Economic Security, appointed by President ¡ranklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, was indeed a daunting one, but the national debate about the need for a national old-age income security program had been under way for several years, picking up intensity as poverty among the elderly increased dramatically during the Great Depression. In a message to Congress in 1934, Roosevelt served notice that he intended to propose a comprehensive program of social insurance. Roosevelt * The author is Director of the Division of Program Studies, OfFce of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics, Social Security Administration. Note: Contents of this publication are not copyrighted; any items may be reprinted, but citation of the Social Security Bulletin as the source is requested. To view the Bulletin online, visit our Web site at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/policy. The Fndings and conclusions presented in the Bulletin are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Social Security Administration....
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