Committee on Economic Security (CES)

Social Security In America


The Factual Background of the Social Security Act
as Summarized from Staff Reports to the
Committee on Economic Security

Published for the


by the



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The Social Security Act became law on August 14, 1935. This act was a final development from the work of the Committee on Economic Security, the report of which the President transmitted to Congress in a special message on January 17, 1935, with recommendations for the passage of legislation to carry out the Committee's suggestions. This message and report represented the fulfillment of a promise made by the President in a special message on June 8, 1934, to the effect that he expected to make recommendations at the beginning of the next session of Congress for additional measures of protection against the major vicissitudes of life which result in destitution and dependency for many individuals.

The Committee on Economic Security was a temporary agency created by the President in Executive Order No. 6757, on June 29, 1934, as a first step in the fulfillment of this promise. This Committee consisted of the Secretary of Labor as chairman, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Federal Emergency Relief Administrator. Its function was to study the problems relating to economic security and to make recommendations, both for a long-time and an immediate program of legislation which would promote economic security for the individual. This Committee completed the major part of its task when it filed its report with the President, which he transmitted to Congress in the special message of January 17, 1935. It was continued in existence, however, with a small staff throughout the consideration of the social security bill in Congress, to give such assistance to the congressional committees as they might request. Its existence terminated October 1, 1935, when the Social Security Board came into operation as the permanent agency to administer this legislation.

In Executive Order No. 6757, creating the Committee on Economic Security, three subordinate agencies were created to assist the Committee in the discharge of its assigned duties. One of these was the Advisory Council on Economic Security, consisting of citizens outside of the Government, whose function was that of giving advice on the legislation to be recommended. Another was the Technical Board on Economic Security, composed of individuals within the Government service, selected by the Committee on Economic Security, who had special knowledge of the problems to be dealt with. This Board was given general direction of the studies and investigations to be undertaken by the Committee and throughout the entire period in which the Committee's recommendations were formulated functioned in closest cooperation with the Committee and its staff. Finally, the Executive Order provided for the appointment by the Committee of an Executive Director, who was placed in immediate charge of the studies and investigations and served also as secretary of the Committee, the Technical Board, and the Advisory Council. The Director was authorized to and did employ a staff of specialists who undertook numerous studies concerned with problems of social security, which were made available to the members of the Committee as completed.

A list of the members of the Advisory Council and of the Technical Board, as well as of the eight additional advisory committees which were subsequently created on special phases of the problems of social security is published in appendix XIII. A complete list of the members of the staff appears in appendix XIV. The Report of the Committee on Economic Security to the President was published by the Committee and also as a congressional document. The recommendations of the Advisory Council to the Committee on Economic Security, with all supplemental statements which were submitted by individual members, was published in both the House and Senate hearings on the economic (social) security bill. The Technical Board made no final report and the staff studies have not heretofore been published in any collected form. A complete list of these staff studies is published in appendix XV.

The present report is a summary of some of the most important information in the staff studies. Completely omitted from consideration in this summary were numerous studies which concerned problems not dealt with in the Social Security Act or which have been published privately. In many instances the specific recommendations included in the voluminous staff reports have been omitted, as these are now largely only of historical interest. In this summary informational data in the staff reports have also been greatly reduced in volume, but it is believed that the most essential facts have been included.

The preparation and publication of this summary have been deemed advisable, first to make available to interested persons the most important part of the data gathered by the staff of the Committee on Economic Security; second, as a partial statement of the factual background underlying the Social Security Act itself. This measure, as it became law, differed in many details, and in some essential respects from the legislation which was recommended by the Committee on Economic Security. The factual material in the staff reports, however, applies to the final measure no less than to the original bill, except for such portions of the Social Security Act as differ from the legislation recommended by the Committee. Moreover, in addition to the factual material gathered prior to the enactment of the Social Security Act there has been included an analysis of the provisions of that act.

This summary was prepared principally by Miss Martha D. Ring under the direction of Dr. Joseph P. Harris, Assistant Director, and, in the last months of its existence, Acting Director of the Committee on Economic Security. The unemployment compensation section was prepared by Merrill G. Murray, also connected with the Committee on Economic Security and now Associate Director of the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation of the Social Security Board.

At the beginning of each section of this report are listed the authors of the major staff reports from which the data summarized were taken. All credit for the data presented should go to the specialists who made these reports, but they are not held responsible for the summary here presented. While every effort was made to summarize fairly and accurately all factual data in the longer staff reports, this summary necessarily suffers from omissions. The Social Security Board assumes no responsibility for any of the statements in the staff reports to the Committee on Economic Security herein summarized.

The publication of this summary of the staff reports of the Committee on Economic Security has been made possible by the Social Security Board. The Board assumed the cost of publication and of completing the preparation of the summary, which was unfinished when the Committee on Economic Security went out of existence. It is hoped that this summary may have practical value justifying this effort and expenditure.

Edwin E. Witte
Executive Director,
The President's Committee on Economic Security, 1934-35.