We're glad you're enjoying History Hub Community!

This resource is available for non-ABC-CLIO database subscribers for two weeks. To access thousands of History Hub resources like this one, log in with your ABC-CLIO username and password. Or learn how to become a subscriber here.

Domestic Policy • Social Policy
Classroom Activities

Objective: Students will identify the reasons for the passage of the Social Security Act and explain how it has evolved. Students will research and write an opinion about a specific social policy issue.

Key Questions:

  • Discuss the increased importance of public health and social insurance programs over the last 150 years of U.S. history. Why did these policy areas receive increasing attention during this time?

Notes on Implementation:

  • Extend the activity by having students write an essay analyzing Social Security. Students should describe changes that have been made to Social Security since the first Social Security Act was passed in 1935, explain how the demographics of the country affect the viability of the program, and propose reforms or overhaul based on their analysis.
  • Allow students to complete the chart with a partner or in small groups. Alternatively, you may choose to provide the information on the chart and allow students to focus on analyzing the data.
  • Review the meaning of vocabulary that may be unfamiliar to students, such as "life expectancy," "eligibility," "poverty rate," and "unemployment rate."

Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in the Domestic Policy Topic Center within the American Government database.

Student Activity:

Social Security is a federal program that helps to support millions of retired or disabled people by paying them a monthly stipend. Created in 1935, the fund is financed through payroll taxes on both employers and employees.

In this activity, you will learn about the origins of Social Security and how it works today.

Resources:

Apply:

  1. Social Security is one of the government's biggest social programs. Review the Resources above to learn more about the origins of Social Security and how it functions today.
  2. Create a chart like the one below. Reread the information in the American Government database and conduct research online to complete the empty cells of the table below.
  3. Discuss: Based on the information from your readings and the table you completed, do you think Social Security has met its intended goals? Does the program meet the country's priorities today? Is Social Security in need of reform? Explain your answers.
Where Did It Come From? (1935) Where Is It Going? (2017)
Goal
Social Security pays for _____:
Funding comes from ____:
Life expectancy 61 years old 80 years old
Age when eligible for full retirement benefits 65 65–67
Poverty rate No official government figures; estimates from historians range from 60% to 70% 12.3%
Poverty rate of elderly At least 50% 9.1%
Unemployment rate 20.1% 4.4%
Other important facts
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/life-expectancy.htm); Social Security Administration (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/agereduction.html); U.S. Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/poverty.html); National Academy of Social Insurance (https://www.nasi.org/discuss/2015/08/social-security%E2%80%99s-past-present-future); U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://data.bls.gov).

ANSWER KEY:

Key Understandings:

  • Through social policy, government officials can provide programs and services to maintain and improve citizen welfare.

Possible Answers for Activity:

Where Did It Come From? (1935) Where Is It Going? (2017)
Goal to protect Americans from "poverty-ridden old age" serve as an anti-poverty program protecting retirees and their survivors, children, and the disabled
Social Security pays for _____: old-age benefits/income to retirees old-age benefits for dependents (wives and children)
disability benefits
Funding comes from ____: payroll taxes payroll taxes
Life expectancy 61 years old 80 years old
Age when eligible for full retirement benefits 65 65–67
Poverty rate NA 12.3%
Poverty rate of elderly 50% 9.1%
Unemployment rate 20.1% 4.4%
Other important facts

Possible answers:

Before Medicare: only half of people over 65 had insurance coverage. Today: 95% of citizens over 65 are covered by Medicare.

Medicaid coverage has increased from 21 million people in 1973, to 43 million in 2000, to 71 million in 2015.

1 million children are not living below the poverty line because they or someone in their family received Social Security payments.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/life-expectancy.htm); Social Security Administration (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/agereduction.html); U.S. Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/poverty.html); National Academy of Social Insurance (https://www.nasi.org/discuss/2015/08/social-security%E2%80%99s-past-present-future); U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://data.bls.gov).

In discussion, students may note the following facts:

  • Social Security was established as a way to address the immediate needs of the elderly poor.
  • Social Security has expanded beyond its initial pool of beneficiaries to include dependents of retirees and disabled citizens.
  • The demographics of the country make it harder for Social Security to remain viable. The life expectancy has increased from 61 to 80 years, meaning that many people receive benefits for a long period of time. In 1935, average life expectancy was four years lower than the age at which people became eligible for benefits, meaning people were more likely to die than to collect benefits and that, on average, people would collect benefits for a far shorter period of time.
  • Another statistic that suggests Social Security may be in need of reform is that it appears to do a better job of protecting seniors from poverty than younger citizens. Just 9.1% of seniors are below the poverty rate, compared to 12.3% of people nationwide.
  • Social Security has been credited with keeping about 1 million children from living below the poverty line.
ABC-CLIO

MLA Citation

"Social Policy." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Content/2042811?cid=257. Accessed 6 Dec. 2019.

back to top

© ABC-CLIO, LLC