77 years ago today President Franklin D Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act, as part of The New Deal.  Throughout the years Social Security has been praised and criticized. The fact is that at the time it was enacted it brought millions of Americans out of poverty and created opportunities for many who had little hope.  Here is a brief story of the impact the Social Security Act had on my family.

My father was a snapshot of what The New Deal did for a nearly-lost generation of Americans. In the late 1930’s after graduating from high school in a tiny rural town in upstate New York my father took a job at General Electric in Schenectady. Most of his pay went to supporting his aging parents. His intellectual promise was not lost on his boss at GE who urged him to attend college, but not until the Social Security Act passed and his parents became eligible was he able to make the step to higher education. I still have the documents showing the monthly benefits my grandparents received – $22 for my grandfather and $11 for my grandmother. so, $33 per month made all the difference.

Through his boss at GE, my father was urged to attend University of Michigan (where the boss had attended). He moved to Ann Arbor in 1940 and began college. Not long after that he met my mother in math class (he was first in class and she was second) and was then drafted into the Army. He spent most of WWII in Greenland at a weather station. In 1943 he and my mother were married on a weekend pass. Upon returning from the war he continued school, went on to earn a Master’s and a PhD in Economics. In the following 20 years he held teaching positions at prestigious universities; advised the US Congress on economic matters; and served in the White House under two US Presidents (JFK & LBJ). As well as raising a family.

After his untimely death (at 57) I was a further beneficiary of Social Security, which provided support for me to attend college.

And it all started with $33 per month.


5 Responses to $33 a Month Made All the Difference

  1. JMPrince says:

    More on Social Security’s Birthday via the CBPP.org for 8/14:

    “Social Security marks its 77th birthday today. This highly successful program pays benefits to 56 million Americans. It’s the single most important source of income for its elderly beneficiaries, contributing on average two-thirds of income for recipients over age 65. For more than one-third of them, Social Security constitutes 90 percent or more of income. Reliance on Social Security is especially high among the oldest old — those who can no longer work and may have outlived their savings — and elderly blacks and Hispanics. Without Social Security, nearly half of elderly Americans would live below the official poverty level; instead, fewer than 10 percent do (see graph).”


    EH.net informs us that $33 in 1940 is/was worth about somewhere between $513- to roughy $1000 today. Although by some calculations, (and here higher ed is infamous for galloping inflation recently) this might be higher. Via ‘How much is that?’ https://eh.net/hmit/


  2. JMPrince says:

    Yep thanks for the lovely remembrance of your dad Catherine, and yes, there’s literally Millions of similar stories of folks & families who benefited from SSI disability and survivors benefits, alone. One of whom was yes, Cong. Paul Ryan (Randian, WI) who now denies it’s usefulness or efficacy for others.

    See also the National Comm to Preserve Social Security & Medicare:

    And of course Thule. When they got it going in the later 50’s & 60’s it was quite the scene, but it was always a hardship post. http://defensetech.org/2012/04/06/inside-the-armys-secret-cold-war-ice-base/


  3. Catherine says:

    Thank you. I know there a millions of similar stories.

  4. MelGX says:

    This might be my favorite story of yours, and I love hearing you tell it. Thank you for finally putting it in writing to keep and share.

  5. Juliana says:

    Thank you for posting this Catherine. I not only learned about SS but about your impressive father.

    $33.00 amazing