By Lisa Graves on August 15, 2014

This week will mark the anniversary of the Social Security Act.

On August 14, 1935, The Progressive wrote about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal victory in securing real income security for Americans in the aftermath of the Great Depression caused by the Wall Street crash of 1929. (A copy of that story about this historic law can be downloaded below.) As detailed in that story, the bill did not pass Congress unanimously and was attacked by the rightwing of that era.

For seven decades, Social Security has been under attack by opponents who consider government-guaranteed pensions for Americans to receive as they get older or if they become disabled to be socialism and unAmerican.  

Social Security is one of the most successful and most popular government programs in American history.

For more than 30 years, opponents of Social Security have peddled the lie that the Social Security Trust Fund is going bankrupt or is nearly insolvent.

The roots of the efforts to attack Social Security run deep in the far right.

They include CEOs such as Fred Koch, who promoted the John Birch Society’s red-scare-era smears that such New Deal reforms were “socialist” or “communist.” In the 1960s, Fred’s sons, Charles and David, inherited his fortune—and his ideas. Charles began funding think tanks to develop arguments for dismantling Social Security.

David ran for vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket with a platform that included privatizing Social Security. Since then he’s spent millions on groups to push disinformation about Social Security and promote an array of sophisticated corporate propaganda. The donations of Koch Industries and others to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that promote claims that Social Security is going broke have paid off.

Also, as detailed in SourceWatch (which is published by The Progressive/the Center for Media and Democracy), billionaire Peter Peterson has pledged a billion dollars to attacking Social Security.

Last year, CMD uncloaked and debunked one of the astroturf groups funded by Peterson, called "Fix the Debt," which lost its battle last year to get a "grand bargain" on the deficit that would include harmful changes to Social Security.

But, it is part of the rightwing playbook to attack Social Security in a variety of ways, most often by asserting it's broke and sometimes by calling it a scam, as did most of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates, or a even a "pyramid scheme," as asserted by Rep. Michelle Bachmann of the Tea Party caucus in Congress.

The truth is that Social Security wasn’t broke in 1980, 1990, or 2012, and it’s not broke today.

According to trusted actuaries, in about 25 years Social Security could face a shortfall—a gap that would allow it to pay most but not all of the earned benefits—unless it’s fixed.

One easy solution is to apply Social Security taxes to all earned income. Under the current system, any wages over the first $106,800 are exempt from Social Security withholding. If we close this loophole soon, the potential shortfall—a quarter century from now—would be solved. Only about 6 percent of Americans earn that much, and removing this exemption would help ensure that the other 94 percent have the protection of this basic social safety net for decades to come.


This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that it has been 79 years since Social Security was signed by President Roosevelt on August 14, 1935.

Lisa Graves is the President of the Progressive Inc. and Publisher of The Progressive, which has merged with the Center for Media and Democracy, the creator of,,,,, and other investigative resources. Part of this piece was previously published byYes! magazine.

Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is CMD's Executive Director. She has served as a senior advisor in all three branches of the federal government and other posts.


Social Security is 79 not 70. The cap is 117,000 not 106,800. Increasing the cap affects about 18% of the public, only 6% within a given year. Solvency is 18 years not 25. (CBO says it is closer to 15.)

This isn't a solution. It doesn't even make the system solvent. It is a temporary patch which provides about 15 years of solvency. That assumes that the money is directed to future retirees rather than increasing the benefits of current ones.

Interestingly, what came to be called AFDC was first written into FDR's Social Security Act. We got rid of that, and Bill Clinton still had time to begin similarly "reforming" Social Security directly, targeting the disabled. Currently, middle classers call for protecting Social Security, but oddly, now specify "retirement." Do they imagine they're immune from serious illness/disability?

Greetings. I wonder if you meant to write that Social Security turned 79 years old this past week? According to and, FDR signed into law the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935.

We need to pass the Second Bill of Rights that FDR was working on. We wouldn't be here now, in this situation.