24 December 1939

24 December 1939

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24 December 1939

December 1939


Winter War

Finnish storm troops cross the Soviet border near Lieksa after routing the Soviet troops in the Tolvajarvi and Aglajarvi districts

24 December 1939 - History

1. The Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR acknowledges the conclusions of the commission that gave a political and legal assessment of the 1939 Soviet-German Non-Aggression Treaty.

2. The Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR agrees with the opinion of the commission that the Non-Aggression Treaty with Germany was signed in a critical international situation and in conditions of growing danger of Fascist aggression in Europe and the threat of Japanese militarism in Asia, and in which one of the objectives of the Treaty was to shelter the USSR from the danger of looming war. In the end this objective was not achieved, while miscalculations with regard to Germany’s obligations to the USSR worsened the consequences of the treacherous Nazi aggression. Our country was facing tough choices at that time.

Contractual obligations came into force immediately after signing, but the Treaty itself was to be approved by the Supreme Council of the USSR. The decision on ratification was adopted on August 31st in Moscow, and ratification letters were exchanged on September 24th 1939.

3. The view of the Congress is that the contents of this Pact did not deviate notably from the standards of international law that were used in such regulations. However, it was not disclosed that simultaneously with entering into and ratification of the Treaty, a secret additional protocol had been signed which determined the spheres of interest of the signatories from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and from Finland to Bessarabia.

The original of the protocol has not been found either in Soviet or foreign archives. However, graphological, phototechnical and lexical study of the copies, maps and other documents, and the compliance of later events with the protocol, prove that the protocol was factually signed and existed.

4. The Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR hereby confirms that the August 23rd 1939 Non-Aggression Treaty and also the Friendship and Border Treaty signed between the USSR and Germany on September 28th 1939 became, as with Soviet-German agreements, invalid pursuant to the standards of international law at the moment when Germany attacked the Soviet Union, i.e. on June 22nd 1941.

5. The Congress states that in both their preparatory method and contents, the August 23rd 1939 Protocol and other secret protocols that were signed with Germany 1939-1941 were deviations from the Leninist principles of Soviet foreign policy. From the standpoint of law, territorial division into Soviet and German spheres of interest and other actions were in conflict with the sovereignty and independence of several third countries.

The Congress notes that during this period the relations of the USSR with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were regulated by a system of treaties. Pursuant to the 1920 Peace Treaties and 1926-1933 Non-Aggression Treaties, the signatories were obliged to honour each other’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability under any circumstances. The Soviet Union had assumed similar obligations to Poland and Finland.

6. The Congress states that Stalin and Molotov did not disclose to the Soviet people, the Central Committee of CPSU (B) and the whole party, nor to the Supreme Council or the government of the USSR that negotiations were being held with Germany over secret protocols. These protocols were removed from the ratification procedures.

Therefore, the decision to sign them was in both essence and form an act of personal power and in no way reflected the will of the Soviet people who bear no responsibility for this treacherous collusion.

7. The Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR condemns the fact of signing the secret protocol on August 23rd 1939 as well as other secret agreements made with Germany. The Congress declares the secret protocols legally unjustified and invalid from the moment of signing.

The protocols did not create a new legal basis in the relations between the Soviet Union and third countries, but Stalin and his associates used them to make ultimatums and to put pressure on other countries by violating the legal obligations assumed by the USSR to those countries.

8. The Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR regards the understanding of the complicated and controversial past as part of glasnost, which must ensure that all people in the Soviet Union have an opportunity to develop freely and equally in the conditions of a wholesome, mutually dependent world and growing common understanding.

Chairman of the Supreme Council of the USSR M. Gorbachev
Moscow, Kremlin 24 December 1989.

"Pravda" on 28 December 1989.
English translation in "Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: Challeging Soviet History" by Heiki Lindpere. Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, 2009.

Today in World War II History—December 24, 1939 & 1944

80 Years Ago—December 24, 1939: On Christmas Eve, Pope Pius XII appeals for peace.

75 Years Ago—Dec. 24, 1944: In the largest mission of the war, 2034 heavy bombers of the US Eighth Air Force bomb German targets in the Ardennes.

Brig. Gen. Frederick Castle dies in a B-17 crash after giving his crew time to bail out he will receive the Medal of Honor.

Two-day Guam Riot begins: white Marines open fire at black Marines who had been talking to Asian women 2 blacks will be killed in armed riots and 43 blacks—and no whites—will be court-martialed.

The San Francisco Ballet performs the first full-length performance of The Nutcracker ever in the US.


Over 60,000 German Jews immigrated to Palestine during the 1930s, most under the terms of the Haavara (Transfer) Agreement. This agreement between Germany and the Jewish authorities in Palestine facilitated Jewish emigration to Palestine. The main obstacle to emigration of Jews from Germany was German legislation banning the export of foreign currency. According to the agreement, Jewish assets in Germany would be disposed of in an orderly manner and the resulting capital transferred to Palestine through the export of German products. The British White Paper in May 1939, a policy statement approved by the British Parliament, contained measures that severely limited Jewish entry into Palestine.

Events of 1945 - WW2 Timeline (January 1st - December 31st, 1945)

Both the Germans and Japanese were on the ropes by early 1945. With the Soviets closing in on his location, German leader Adolph Hitler decided suicide was his best option. The war in Europe was over the following month. In the Pacific, the use of Atomic weapons as well as a relentless aerial bombing campaign and continued successes both on the ground and at sea meant that the Empire of Japan had very little choice but to surrender - which they did in August, officially ending the fighting of World War 2.

There are a total of (102) Events of 1945 - WW2 Timeline (January 1st - December 31st, 1945) events in the Second World War timeline database. Entries are listed below by date-of-occurrence ascending (first-to-last). Other leading and trailing events may also be included for perspective.

Sunday, April 1st - April 30th, 1945

The USN is credited with sinking four German U-boats in what turns out to be the last recorded combat actions in the Atlantic Theater of War.

By May of 1945, the U-boat scourge in the Atlantic is over, completing one of the more important battles in all of World War 2.

In preparation for the amphibious assault landings on the island of Okinawa, US Naval elements begin bombardment of shoreline positions.

The US Navy lobs some 30,000 explosive shells on the Okinawa coastline by this time, ending a week of bombardment.

The US 77th Infantry Division lands at the Kerama Islands to secure a staging post for the eventual invasion of Okinawa.

Further landings of US forces on the Kerama Islands, complete its capture for the Allies.

Two US Army and USMC divisions land along the southwest coast of Okinawa near Hagushi, meeting little resistance. The US 10th Army is commanded by Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner. Some 550,000 personnel and 180,000 soldiers take part in the fray.

As American forces move further inland, the battle for Okinawa intensifies. Pockets of dug-in Japanese defenders become evermore concentrated the more inland the Allied forces go.

American forces are now amassed as two separate assault fronts. To the north are the 1st and 6th Marine divisions. To the mountainous south are the 7th and 96th Infantry divisions.

The deadly kamikaze air attack is unleashed on American Naval vessels in the Pacific. These aircraft appear as coordinated airstrikes and prove equally deadly to both sides. USN vessels off the coast of Okinawa itself are targeted. Some 34 US Navy ships fall victim.

The IJN Yamato, having already been spotted by an American submarine, makes its way to the fighting at Okinawa. The crew understand that this is a suicide mission at this point in the war.

The American 27th Infantry Division lands at Tsugen. The island is just to the east of Okinawa proper.

Wednesday, April 11th, 1945

The conquest of Tsugen is completed by the 27th Infantry Division.

US Marines reach Hedo Point in the north of Okinawa.

A five-day offensive is undertaken involving the American 77th Infantry Division and the island of Ie Shima. Ie Shima represents the tip of the Motobu Peninsula. Motobu is a defensive Japanese stronghold located to the west of Okinawa proper.

The offensive to take Ie Shima is completed.

Japanese defenders are pushed back towards Naha by American forces. The Japanese defensive lines are reset as territory is lost. The Americans report 1,000 casualties in their assaults.

Motobu Peninsula falls to the Americans as the Japanese defenders are either killed or captured.

The Japanese enact a major offensive in the south of Okinawa. A coast-to-coast defensive front is established from Naha to Yonabaru. Regardless, the line is targeted by prolonged American firepower and infantry.

Naha is officially captured by American forces. The Orouku Peninsula to the south is now within reach.

The fighting on Okinawa comes to a close as American forces overwhelm the islands determined Japanese defenders. Those that are not taken prisoner or die in the fighting, subject themselves to ritual suicides.

Allied forces find and locate the Japanese defenders along the southern portion of Okinawa. Heavy defenses are noted.

Understanding that defeat is iminent, Japanese Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushjima commits ritual suicide with his staff after reporting the loss of Okinawa to his superiors.

The Battle of Okinawa officially draws to a close and now represents the all-important staging area for the Allied invasion of the Japanese mainland.

The IJN Yamato, Japan's pride and joy and the largest battleship ever built, sails from the Inland Sea on a suicide mission at Okinawa. She is escorted by the light cruiser Yahagi and some eight destroyers on her final voyage.

In the early morning hours, US Navy reconnaissance aircraft spot the IJN Yamato and relay her position.

Task Force 38 launches some 380 aircraft against IJN Yamato.

With no air cover, the IJN Yamato is blasted to pieces by the American Navy warplanes. Her magazine stores explode in a fantastic display as she goes up in smoke. Most of her crew is lost with the ship in the afternoon hours.

By this time, the Japanese defenders have been seperated into three major fighting groups. The more raw recruits find it somewhat easy to surrender than fight to the death.

The Soviet Army begins its Berlin campaign with spectacular display of artillery, exploding targets throughout Berlin and its surrounding areas. The bombardment signals the beginning of the offensive to take the German capital.

Soviet Army groups advance against German defenses at the Oder River.

Adolf Hitler celebrates his final (56th) birthday, seemingly unaware of the fate to befall him and his Germany.

General Zhukov and his 1st Belorussian army break into the Berlin suburbs.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 1945

Soviet leader Stalin sends his final assault orders to generals Zhukov and Koniev.

The Berlin suburbs gradually fall under Soviet control as fighting rages on everywhere.

German General Wenck of the 12th Army launches a futile counter-offensive against the Soviet onslaught.

The British Royal Air Force slow down the 12th Army offensive through intense bombing.

The 1st Belorussian Front meets up with the st Ukranian Front, formally encircling Berlin.

All access points west of the German capital are cutt off by Soviet forces.

Over 2 million Berlin civilians hunker down for the violent fighting ahead.

Some 30,000 German soldiers ready themselves for the bloody business of the day.

Twin Soviet offensives break the final defensive fronts of the Germans.

Soviet forces advance across the Spree River.

Soviet forces advance towards Unter den Linden.

General Wenck's 12th Army is halted by the Soviet Army.

The Soviet Army remains just 15 miles from the center of Berlin.

German soldiers set up defensive areas across a small 10 mile long front for their ultimate "last stand".

The Soviets capture the Reichstag.

German leader Adolf Hitler weds his mistress, Eva Braun, in his underground bunker under Berlin. After giving a final speech to his remaining supporters, he poisons his dog, then Braun and ultimately takes his own life. In his will, he leaves his authority to Admiral Doenitz.

The bodies of Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun are taken to the Chancellery Gardens and incinerated under previous orders from Hitler, this to avoid capture and ultimate humiliation at the hands of the progressing Soviet Army.

Soviet artillery opens up once again, this time in a massive barrage against the Chancellery and surrounding areas.

German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels murders his wife and six children before taking his own life.

German forces across Berlin begin surrendering.

The Fall of Berlin is complete - Soviet forces occupy all major sections of the German capital.

The war in Europe officially comes to a close.

This day is formally announced as "VE Day" and celebrations break out across the world, though fighting in the Pacific against the Japanese Empire is ongoing.

General Chuikov makes his way into the center of Berlin.

German Generaloberst Hans Krebs approaches Chuikov with the formal German surrender.

Berlin formally and unconditionally surrenders to the Soviet legions and Western Allies. General Jodl signs for the defeated Germans and Generals Bedell Smith and Suslaparov for the Allies.

Elements of the 5th Guards Army reach the Elbe River at Torgau and celebrate with the arriving US 1st Army.

Weeks of fighting see German forces destroyed, taken prisoner or sent packing as the Allies regroup and respond.

Wednesday, February 7th, 1945

By this date, all of the German gains of the Ardennes Offensive have been erased.

Wednesday, February 7th, 1945

The German loss of life is a staggering 82,000 men, matched only by the 77,000 casualties suffered by the American Army.

Saturday, January 6th, 1945

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the west coordinates via telegram with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in the east on launching a combined January offensive. Churchill plans on the 20th as the target date.

Stalin moves the offensive launch date forward to January 12th.

The Red Army enacts a massive offensive against German foes along the East Front. His targets are German Army Group A and Army Group Center located in East Prussia and Poland. The battle line is a long running front from the Lithuanian coast down to the Balkans region.

The Red Army offensive is spear-headed by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Belorussian Fronts as well as the 1st Baltic Front joined by the 1st Ukrainian Front.

Initial thrusts by the Soviet Army prove positive against the German defense.

Tuesday, January 16th, 1945

Adolf Hitler reorders his forces, weakening key areas of defense, to attempt a flanking manuever against the Red Army near Poznan.

Wednesday, January 17th, 1945

The Polish capital city of Warsaw officially falls to the advancing Soviet Army.

Wednesday, January 17th, 1945

Soviet forces engage German foes in East Prussia with gains being made towards Danzig and Konigsberg.

Saturday, January 20th, 1945

Hitler orders his 6th SS Panzer Army out of the Ardennes forrest on the West Front towards Budapest, Hungary in the east.

Soviet General Konev and his 1st Ukranian Front cross the Oder River at Steinau.

Thursday, January 25th, 1945

Hitler reorganizes his forces under the new names of Army Group North, Army Group Center and Army Group Vistula.

Thursday, February 1st, 1945

German forces at Kustrin derail any further Soviet advance towards Berlin. General Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front is halted.

Saturday, February 3rd, 1945

General Zhukov and his 1st Belorussian Front combine forces with General Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front along the Oder River near Kustrin.

Saturday, February 3rd, 1945

The Soviet front lines total some 50 miles along the Oder River by this time.

Soviet Army forces begin to cross the Oder River into Germany.

Thursday, February 15th, 1945

The German city of Breslau is surrounded by Soviet troops.

Thursday, February 22nd, 1945

Poznan falls to the Soviet Army after the defending German troops surrender.

Saturday, February 24th, 1945

General Konev's 1st Ukranian Front claims Lower Silesia.

From Hungary, Soviet Army groups begin their offensive into Austria along the Danube River. The target is Vienna.

The Soviet Front gains tremendous ground since the start of the offensive back in January. Forces are a mere 50 miles from Berlin.

Preparations for the final battle of Berlin are made.

Tuesday, February 13th, 1945

805 RAF bombers level the German city of Dresden, killing up to 130,000 of its inhabitants. The attack is notable for Dresden held little to no military or strategic value for Germany.

Sunday, April 1st - April 30th, 1945

The final raid, this by American medium bombers, is launched against Schweinfurt.

Tuesday, May 1st - May 31st, 1945

The last Artic Convoy voyage - with the designation of JW67 - between Britian and Russia is completed.

Tuesday, July 3rd - 11th, 1945

About 6,000 men, left over from the decimated Japanese 33rd Army, assail Allied positions at Waw. The fighting lasts until July 11th when the attackers are finally driven off by combined Allied air and ground assaults.

The Allies conduct an amphibious landing at Sarangini Bay in a step towards removing the Japanese defenders at Mindanao.

The Americans complete the detonation of the world's first atomic bomb under the codename of "Manhattan Project". The operation takes place at Alamogordo in New Mexico. Such bombs are intended to be used on the Japanese mainland to help finish the war.

Tuesday, July 17th - August 2nd, 1945

Allied leaders meet for the Potsdam Conference to discuss the post-war world order. Chuchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin are the primary leaders in attendance.

Elements of the Japanese 28th Army attempt to push out of Pegu Yomas against the Indian 17th. Japanese forces are slaughtered by gunfire and the escape fails.

Japanese defenders on Mindanao in the Philippines are defeated.

Japanese leaders disregard the proclamations by Allied leaders made at the Potsdam Conference.

In the Far East theater of Burma, the remaining elements of the Japanese 28th Army are destroyed.

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress 'Enola Gay' drops the first of two atomic bombs on the Japanese mainland - the target being the densely populated city of Hiroshima. About 70,000 of its citizens are killed and a further 70,000 are injured in the blast. Many more will die in the coming years from its effects.

In the Manchurian Theater, the Soviets commit some 1.5 million troops against the Japanese's Kwantung Army.

A United States B-29 bomber delivers a second atomic bomb on the Japanese mainland, this time on the city of Nagasaki. This is in direct response to Tokyo's disregard of previous ultimatums by the Allies calling for an immediate and unconditional surrender. Some 35,000 are killed in the blast with another 60,000 citizens injured.

Following the drop of a second atomic bomb on one of its major cities, the Emperor of Japan formally supports a Japanese surrender to the terms specified in the Potsdam Conference.

Wednesday, August 15th, 1945

For the first time during his tenure, Emperor Hirohito speaks to his people, calling on his commanders to support his order to surrender to the Allies.

Thursday, August 23rd, 1945

The Soviets claim the complete victory in Manchuria over the defeated Japanese Army. The war has cost the conquered some 80,000 KIA with a further 594,000 taken prisoner to an unknown fate. In comparison, the Soviets lose just 8,000 of their own with 22,000 wounded.

Sunday, September 2nd, 1945

The formal Japanese surrender takes place on the deck of the American battleship USS Missouri. Japanese leaders sign the surrender in front of American General Douglas MacArthur. The end of World War 2 - with VJ day - has arrived.

A Brief History of the 24-Hour Convenience Store

Imagine, for a moment, a street corner in New York. There might be stray garbage in the gutters, there might be a swarm of tourists, there might be a taxi veering just a bit too close to the curb. And there is a good chance that there’s a store you can walk into, at any hour of day or night, and satisfy a craving for coffee or a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich.

Stores open 24 hours are ubiquitous across America. Of the 152,794 shops listed by the National Association of Convenience Stores, 90 percent are round-the-clock operations. New York City alone houses upwards of 1,500 independently-run bodegas it’s hard to imagine the five boroughs without them.

But there was a time, not too long ago, when city residents had to go from store to store to buy their eggs, ice, and cheap beer. Their midnight cravings were greeted with locked doors and dimmed lights. The convenience store, such as it is today, did not exist.

Jeff Lenard, the vice president of the NACS, credits the Southland Ice Company with the birth of the modern convenience store. In 1927, “Uncle Johnny” Jefferson Green ran the Southland Ice Dock in Oak Cliff, Dallas, where people would come to stock up on foot-long freezing blocks they carted home to refrigerate their food. Unlike the local grocery stores, the Ice Dock was already open 16 hours a day, seven days a week. “So [Green] thought, ‘why not sell milk and bread and eggs, too?’” Lenard says.

The Southland Ice Company saw potential in Uncle Johnny’s idea and merged operations at various locations under the extended schedule of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. In �, these stores became called 7-Eleven.

It would take 36 years for the company to adopt the 24-hour model, and when it did, it was an accident: following a football game at the University of Texas, customers flooded the 7-Eleven in Austin. “It couldn’t close,” notes the company’s website. The store stayed open all night. So successful was the inadvertent model that always-open 7-Elevens began to crop up intentionally the first all-night outpost, perhaps unsurprisingly, was in Las Vegas.

This is the path to all-night retail that is most clear-cut: a series of happy accidents, capitalized upon by one company. But more sordid 24-hour operations existed elsewhere before 7-Elevens touched down in Sin City.

In 1939, Rose Gold, a 67-year-old candy store owner in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn was arraigned for perjury and racketeering. The article on her arrest in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described her store as “ordinary-looking.”

Her neighbors were surprised at her arrest, but when prompted, the owner of a nearby deli admitted: “Sure, they kept the place open all night” no one would have witnessed anything suspect.

Across the country, the Hollywood Ranch Market also had round-the-clock hours and a reputation for seediness. Even prior to 1952, its sign proclaimed “We Never Close” a Time magazine article from January of that year describes:

… [it] has thrown thrown the key away, employs three shifts to stay open 24 hours every day, including Sunday, finds its stores almost as crowded at 3 a.m. as at 3 p.m….

At night, the market doubled as a receptacle for Hollywood nightlife Shanghai-born ticket-taker Geraldine Holt recounts in Hollywood Remembered: An Oral History of its Golden Age how:

If you weren’t working, you𠆝 go there at two in the morning. Because Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte, and other stars would take their wives or girlfriends shopping then, thinking they could avoid the crowd. But we were all there.

Cultural shifts occurring nationwide also bolstered the move toward 24-hour retailing in a way that the activity on the coasts could not sustain on its own. President Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act in 1956, authorizing the interstate highway system and 41,000 miles of new roads, all of which required round-the-clock fuel for both cars and their drivers. The Tonight Show with Steve Allen premiered in 1954, encouraging viewers to stay up past midnight. Americans were working later hours, too Lenard says that early 24-hour stores tended to open by places like factories and hospitals, where shift work was becoming more common. And the same Time magazine article noted: “Speeding the trend is the fact that the defense program, drawing more & more wives into the labor force, makes it harder for women to shop during the day.”

There was no reversing this tide. A 1972 article in the Milwaukee Sentinel took note of the uptick, both in cities and suburbs. Nationwide, 4 percent of supermarkets with more than $500,000 in yearly business had switched to 24-hour schedules. “What kind of people shop at 3 a.m.?” the article asks.

Store owners said they get a cross section—people avoiding the late-afternoon jam in the store and on the highways, families with a car available only for shopping at night women whose husbands are home from work taking care of their children someone who needs milk or aspirin in an emergency partygoers buying snacks sometimes several times during the night men coming off late work shifts families that want their whole day free for recreation and even some insomniacs.

Barring, obviously, the dated gender dynamics, that list would look pretty much the same in 2016.  

24 Images of the Brutal Nanking Massacre

The Nanking Massacre was an episode of mass rape and murder committed by the Japanese troops against the residents of Nanking, then the capital of the Republic of China during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The massacre occurred over a six-week period starting on December 13, 1937, the day the Japanese captured Nanking. The soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army murdered an estimated 40,000 to over 300,000 and perpetrated widespread looting and rape. Because Japanese military records on the killings were kept secret or destroyed after the surrender in 1945, historians have not been able to accurately estimate the death toll. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo estimated in 1946 that 200,000 Chinese were killed in the incident. China&rsquos official estimate is more than 300,000 dead based on the evaluation of the Nanking War Crimes Tribunal in 1947.

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East estimated that, in an addition to children and the elderly, 20,000 women were raped. On 19 December 1937, the Reverend James M. McCallum wrote in his diary: &ldquoI know not where to end. Never I have heard or read such brutality. Rape! Rape! Rape! We estimate at least 1,000 cases a night and many by day. In case of resistance or anything that seems like disapproval, there is a bayonet stab or a bullet &hellip People are hysterical &hellip Women are being carried off every morning, afternoon and evening. The whole Japanese army seems to be free to go and come as it pleases, and to do whatever it pleases.&rdquo

The Chinese government has been accused of exaggerating aspects of the massacre, while historical negationists and Japanese nationalists go as far as claiming the massacre was fabricated for propaganda purposes. Denial of the massacre and revisionist accounts of the killings have become a staple of Japanese nationalism. In Japan, public opinion of the massacres varies, but few deny that the conflict occurred.

CHINA &ndash DECEMBER 01: War Between China And Japan: Occupation And Invasion Of Nankin In December 1937. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images 14 Dec 1937, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China &mdash Original caption: Made a day after they had captured the former Chinese capital city on December 13, this picture shows victorious Japanese infantrymen patrolling the building that had previously housed the Finance Ministry of the Nanking government. They found precious little money left by the retreating Chinese. Note the camouflaged war tank in the courtyard of the structure. &mdash Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS Destruction in Nanking, China, by Japanese attack, Jan. 4, 1938. AP Photo Japanese invaders found this portion of Nanking deserted when they forced their way into the city, but the work of the Chinese in setting fire to the city can be noted in the background, Dec. 28, 1937. The flames which were widespread were just getting underway. Note Japanese soldiers in the street. AP Photo


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Social Security

The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance provided by the following members of the Social Security Administration's Office of Legislative and Regulatory Policy: Peggy S. Fisher, Director, and Timothy K. Evans, and Richard L. Griffiths, staff, of the Division of Retirement and Survivors Benefits.

Today, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Federal social insurance program, now known simply as "Social Security," that emerged in 1935 as part of the Nation's response to the plight of its elderly. The Social Security program of the 1980's is the direct descendent of the limited program of contributory old-age benefits enacted in 1935. The program, which today covers virtually all jobs, continues to have certain basic characteristics found in the original program that is, eligibility is earned through work in covered jobs, participation is generally compulsory, the amount of the benefits is related to covered earnings, the program is intended to provide a base of protection, and benefits are financed primarily through dedicated payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers.

Yet, while the program fundamentals have remained the same over 5 decades, much has changed. As American work and life patterns have changed, so too Social Security has been adapted to meet current expectations. The legislative history of the program, described briefly below, shows clearly how Social Security has retained its essential characteristics as it has evolved to keep pace with the times.

By the end of the First World War, a primarily agrarian American society had become a primarily urban, industrialized one. Thus, on the eve of the Great Depression of the 1930's, a larger proportion of the American people were dependent on cash wages for their support than ever before. By 1932, however, unemployment reached 34 percent of the nonagricultural workforce. Between 1929 and 1932, national income dropped by 43 percent, per capita income by 19 percent. By the mid-1930's, the lifetime savings of millions of people had been wiped out.

For vast numbers of aged people, and people nearing old age, the loss of their savings brought with it the prospect of living their remaining years in destitution. At the height of the Depression, many old people were literally penniless. One-third to one-half of the aged were dependent on family or friends for support. The poor houses and other relief agencies that existed at the time to assist people who had fallen on hard times were financed mainly from charity and local funds. They could not begin--either financially or conceptually--to respond adequately to the special needs of the aged brought about by the cataclysmic events of the Depression.

Before Social Security, many people faced destitution in old age

Although by 1934, 30 States had responded by providing pensions for the needy aged, total expenditures for State programs for the aged that year were $31 million--an average of $19.74 a month per aged person. As the Depression worsened, benefits to individuals were cut further to enable States to spread available funds among as many people as possible.

Various national schemes to provide income to the aged received substantial attention. These included the Townsend Old-Age Revolving Pension Plan and a plan called "Share the Wealth" advanced by Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long.

Under the Townsend plan, every American over age 60 was to get a monthly pension, provided he or she did not work and promised to spend the entire payment during the month. Under Long's plan, large personal fortunes would be liquidated to finance (1) pensions for the aged and (2) cash payments to every family sufficient to buy a home, a car, and radio.

Due in large part to the public and congressional pressures for some Federal response to the chaotic conditions of the time, in June 1934, a Committee on Economic Security was established by Executive Order of President Franklin Roosevelt. This Cabinet-level Committee, chaired by Frances Perkins, the Secretary of Labor, was given the task of developing constructive, long-term proposals for the prevention of all the major causes of economic insecurity. Given the desperate conditions of the time, the Committee's major attention was focused on programs to protect the unemployed. Yet, amid some controversy about the feasibility and constitutionality of such a plan, there developed from the work of the Committee a proposal for compulsory, contributory old-age insurance, which was ultimately enacted as part of the Social Security Act.

The Social Security Act, enacted on August 14, 1935, provided a new federally administered system of social insurance for the aged financed through payroll taxes paid by employees and their employers. Under the system, which applied only to workers in commerce and industry, people would earn retirement benefit eligibility as they worked. With some exceptions, benefits would be related to workers' average covered earnings, and workers could not have earnings and still be eligible for benefits. No benefits were provided for spouses or children, and lump-sum refunds were provided to the estates of workers who died before age 65 or before receiving at least the equivalent in benefits of their taxes plus interest. Collection of payroll taxes began in 1937, and benefit payments were scheduled to begin in 1942.

Even as the Social Security legislation moved through the Congress in the late winter and spring of 1935, it was acknowledged by many supporters that the old-age program then under consideration was but a first step in providing comprehensive protection for American workers against loss of earnings. President Roosevelt, in signing the Social Security Bill into law noted that "This law, too, represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete." In May 1937 the month in which the old-age program survived a crucial constitutional test in the landmark Helvering v. Davis case (in which the employer Social Security payroll tax was found constitutional), the Senate Committee on Finance and the Social Security Board jointly appointed an Advisory Council on Social Security. This outside advisory group, which would be the first of many to study and make recommendations concerning Social Security over the years,* was instructed to study possible ways of making the program more fully effective sooner than contemplated under the 1935 law.

(* Appointment of outside advisory bodies has long been institutionalized as a tradition in Social Security policymaking. Numerous advisory bodies have met over the years, and most of the changes made in Social Security have been based in large part on their studies and recommendations. The law has since 1956 required periodic appointment of Advisory Councils.)

The Council's fundamental finding was an endorsement of contributory old-age insurance as a way of preventing dependency in old age and thereby reducing reliance on needs-tested assistance. Further, the Council recommended a benefit structure that, in addition to basic benefits for workers, would provide protection for aged wives, widows, and surviving children starting in 1940.

Based on the Advisory Council's recommendations and recognizing the heavy dependence of most families on the male wage earner at that time, the Congress, in 1939, enacted legislation that eliminated lump-sum payroll tax refunds and provided benefits for aged wives and widows, young children of retired and deceased workers, young widows caring for a child beneficiary, and dependent parents of retired and deceased workers.

Unemployment affected many families during the Great Depression of the 1930s

The Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives and the Senate Committee on Finance, in their reports on the 1939 amendments, reasoned that "Under a social-insurance plan the primary purpose is to pay benefits in accordance with the probable needs of the beneficiaries rather than to make payments to the estate of a deceased person regardless of whether or not he leaves dependents."

The 1939 legislation also provided a new method of computing benefits, based on average monthly earnings instead of on cumulative wages. The net effect of the 1939 amendments was to increase the annual cost of benefits payable during the early years and to decrease the annual cost of benefits payable during later years. Over the long range, the average annual cost of benefits remained about the same as under prior law.

In addition to these changes in benefits, the 1939 amendments made basic changes in the financing of the Social Security program by establishing the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and by changing the size of the financial reserves held by the program. The provisions of prior law would have resulted in the accumulation of a huge reserve fund over the years, similar to the reserves built up by private pension plans. The new legislation was designed to constrain the accumulation of reserves and, in effect, to move the financing of the program toward "pay-as-you-go" financing. This change in the reserve concept allowed the immediate payment of benefits to retired workers and to their dependents and survivors without increasing Social Security tax rates. This change in financing also permitted a 3-year postponement of the increases in the Social Security tax rate that had been scheduled for 1940.

Other recommendations of the 1938 Council that were enacted in 1939 included:

  • Provision for benefits to start in 1940 instead of 1942
  • Revision of the earnings test, allowing earnings of $14.99 a month before benefits were withheld and
  • A method of measuring whether an individual had worked long enough in covered employment to get a benefit--based on "quarters of coverage" the measure on which today's methods are based.

Following implementation of the 1939 amendments, the basic Social Security program was in place. It would remain essentially unchanged over the 1940's as the Nation concentrated its efforts on fighting World War II and toward building a healthy post-war economy. Social Security legislation enacted during these years included further postponement of tax rate increases, minor changes in coverage, and provision for coordinating the survivor benefits payable under the Social Security and Railroad Retirement Acts. Nevertheless, Social Security grew in importance both to the aged and to the economy. The number of beneficiaries grew from about 222,000 at the end of 1940 to over 3 million in 1949. Average monthly benefits grew only slightly, however--from $22.60 for a retired worker in 1940 to $26 at the end of the decade-- less than the rate of inflation.

The Advisory Council on Social Security, 1937-1938 The Post-War Era By the end of the immediate post-war period, Social Security had arrived at a major crossroads.

  • The purchasing power of benefits had been sharply reduced by inflation. (By 1950, the cost of living had risen by three-quarters since 1939.)
  • There was growing recognition that, as the Committee on Economic Security had pointed out, the hazards of economic insecurity due to disability were at least as great as the hazards faced by retirees.
  • The program had not reduced the need for public assistance among older persons. On the contrary, the percentage of the aged receiving old-age assistance was somewhat larger (22.5) in 1950 than it had been in 1940 (21.7).

To help it determine the appropriate ongoing role of social insurance in the Nation's income support system, in 1947, the Senate Committee on Finance named an Advisory Council on Social Security. The findings of this Council formed a major milestone in the history of Social Security by reaffirming in the post-Depression era the social insurance principles established in the 1930's. In the Introduction to its report, the Council said:

"Opportunity for the individual to secure protection for himself and his family against the economic hazards of old age and death is essential to the sustained welfare, freedom, and dignity of the American citizen. For some, such protection can be gained through individual savings and other private arrangements. For others, such arrangements are inadequate or too uncertain. Since the interest of the whole Nation is involved, the people, using the Government as the agency for their cooperation, should make sure that all members of the community have at least a basic measure of protection against the major hazards of old age and death."

With respect to the existing old-age and survivors insurance (OASI) program, the Council was unanimous in finding three major deficiencies: inadequate coverage unduly restrictive eligibility requirements for older workers and inadequate benefits. To remedy these problems, the Council recommended a general benefit increase a doubling of the minimum benefit provision of benefits for additional dependents and survivors and extension of coverage beyond the original boundaries of commerce and industry to self-employed workers, farm and domestic workers, Federal civilian employees not under a retirement system, State and local governmental employees, and employees of nonprofit organizations. In order to provide more adequate benefits to workers in these groups who were already middle-aged or older when their jobs were first covered, the Council recommended a "new-start" benefit computation. The 1948 Advisory Council also strongly recommended extension of the social insurance approach to provide a program of cash benefits to the permanently and totally disabled. The program recommended by the Council would pay benefits after a 6-month waiting period only to those with severe and long-lasting disabilities, would provide for expenditures of Social Security funds for rehabilitation of disabled workers, and would terminate benefits to workers who refused to accept physical examinations or rehabilitation. As its first order of business, in 1950, the Congress addressed the erosion in the value of Social Security benefits due to the inflation that had occurred since the inception of the program. The 1950 amendments provided for general benefit increases and increases in the minimum benefit that amounted to an across-the-board increase of about 77 percent. Echoing the view of the 1948 Advisory Council with respect to the ongoing role for the Social Security system, the Senate Committee on Finance said in its report of the 1950 amendments:

"Your committee's impelling concern in recommending passage of [this bill] has been to take immediate, effective steps to cut down the need for further expansion of public assistance, particularly old-age assistance. . .We believe that improvement of the American social-security system should be in the direction of preventing dependency before it occurs and of providing more effective income protection, free from the humiliation of a test of need. . ."

To finance this substantial benefit increase and other program improvements, the 1950 amendments increased the contribution and benefit base (the amount of annual wages subject to Social Security taxes and creditable for benefits) from $3,000 to $3,600 and provided a revised schedule of gradually increasing tax rates for employers, employees, and the newly covered self-employed. The new law also repealed a never-used provision which authorized appropriations to the program from general revenues if they were needed. These changes made clear the Congress' rejection of Federal general revenues as a major source of Social Security financing and underscored its view that Social Security should be self-supporting in both the short range and the long range.

The Congress also began in 1950 to focus on the coverage deficiencies identified by the 1948 Council. These deficiencies, of course, had previously been recognized by the framers of the original law. At the inception of Social Security, there had been virtually unanimous agreement among supporters of the social insurance concept that, in order to assure adequate protection to the greatest number of workers, coverage should be both compulsory and as nearly universal as possible. Universal, compulsory coverage was also looked upon as the best means of spreading the cost of the program over the largest possible group, and thus avoiding problems of adverse selection and windfall benefits.

As noted earlier, the 1935 Act provided compulsory coverage for workers in commerce and industry initially, about 6 in 10 jobs were covered. Coverage was not extended to other jobs for a number of reasons. Administrative considerations prevented quick development of methods of collecting taxes and providing coverage for the self-employed and for farm workers. Some groups, primarily railroad workers and Federal employees, already had retirement systems. In addition, legal and constitutional concerns involving taxation of States and localities prevented immediate extension of coverage to employees of State and local governments.

By 1950, with a decade of experience under the Social Security program behind them, the Congress concluded that many of the obstacles to universal coverage were not as formidable as they had appeared at the beginning. Thus, legislation enacted in 1950 extended coverage to several major categories of workers, including regularly employed farm and domestic workers non-farm self-employed persons (except professionals) Federal civilian workers and, at the election of employees and employers, State and local government employees not covered under another retirement program and employees of nonprofit organizations other than ministers.

Because many of the workers newly covered under the 1950 amendments were already middle-aged or older, the principle of enabling newly covered older workers to become insured more easily and making their benefits more comparable to those of other covered workers with similar earnings was established. The 1950 amendments included a so-called new-start benefit computation that based benefit amounts on earnings after 1950 and companion provisions for measuring insured status in terms of work after 1950.

Four years later (in 1954), another 10 million workers' jobs were covered in 1956, another million were added. Social Security legislation enacted in 1954 and 1956 extended coverage to (among others) the farm self-employed, certain groups of professional self-employed (generally with the exception of physicians), members of the uniformed services, and State and local government employees under a retirement system, under various conditions. Thus, by the mid-1950's, some 20 years after enactment of Social Security, the protection offered under the program was available to 90 percent of workers.

During the 1950's, the Congress also undertook lengthy consideration of another of the 1948 Advisory Council's recommendations--extension of Social Security protection to disabled workers.

The House-passed version of the 1950 Social Security Amendments would have provided for a program of disability insurance along the lines recommended by the Council, but the final bill made no such provision. Instead, the 1950 amendments provided for extension of the State-Federal public assistance program to the permanently and totally disabled, as had been urged by a minority of the Advisory Council's members.

Later, in 1954, the Congress enacted a disability "freeze" provision. No cash disability benefits were payable under this provision, but workers who were permanently and totally disabled and who also met insured status tests could have their Social Security earnings records frozen as of the date of their disability. Through the "freeze" provision, disabled workers could prevent their retirement benefits from being diluted by many years of no earnings. Other provisions of the 1954 amendments provided for expansion of State vocational rehabilitation programs to address the difficult problem of rehabilitating the severely disabled.

Eight years after the 1948 Advisory Council had recommended it, Congress in 1956 established a cash disability insurance program--with benefits first payable in 1957--with essentially the same eligibility requirements passed by the House in 1950. Because of concern about the high costs of a disability program and potential abuse, however, benefits were payable only to workers who were at least 50 years old. These amendments established basic principles under which the disability program continues to operate today:

  • "Disability" is defined as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity (prior to legislation in 1965, permanent disability was required the 1965 legislation provided the present-law requirement that the disability be expected to last at least 12 months or be expected to result in death) Disability must be established on the basis of objective medical evidence Eligibility is based on both duration and recency of work in covered employment
  • Benefits are paid only after a waiting period
  • A proportion of Social Security funds may be spent for rehabilitation of disabled workers and
  • Workers who refuse to accept physical examinations or rehabilitation may lose their benefits.

In 1958, the insured status requirements for disability benefits were relaxed through elimination of the currently insured status requirement and benefits were extended to spouses and children of disabled workers. Two years later, the minimum age requirement for disabled workers was eliminated and a trial work period provision added to encourage disabled workers to return to work.

By 1960, then, the old-age, survivors, and disability insurance (OASDI) programs were essentially in place as we know them today. Coverage under the program had been made nearly universal , so that virtually all people reaching retirement age in the decades to come would be able to establish benefit eligibility. Over the 1960's, the OASDI programs were refined through legislation to create new categories of beneficiaries, to increase benefits so as to maintain their purchasing power, and to adjust tax rates to assure adequate program financing. Moreover, legislation enacted in 1961 lowered the age of benefit eligibility for men. When the Social Security program was established, benefits were made available to men and women at age 65. The Social Security Amendments of 1956 had provided benefits for women as early as age 62. Benefits received prior to age 65 were reduced to take account of the longer period over which they would be received. The 1961 amendments extended eligibility for reduced benefits to include men.

In its examination of the adequacy of Social Security protection for the aged and the disabled, the 1965 Advisory Council came to the conclusion "that cash benefits alone are not enough." In its report, the Council said that:

"Monthly cash benefits, if adequate, can meet regularly recurring expenses such as those for food, clothing and shelter, but [they] are not a practical way to meet the problem that the aged and disabled face in the high and unpredictable costs of health care, costs that may run into the thousands of dollars for some and amount to very little for others. Security in old age and during disability requires the combination of a cash benefit and insurance against a substantial part of the costs of expensive illness."

The Council found in part that, while health care expenditures for the aged were twice as high as those of younger people, the great majority of the aged were neither well-off nor had adequate health insurance. Further, they found that, by the 1960's, the inability of the aged to meet health care costs had become the single most important reason that older people applied for public assistance. Based on these findings, the Council recommended establishment of a program to provide, through a contributory social insurance mechanism, protection against the costs of hospital and related inpatient services for aged and disabled. In order to protect people who were already old, the Council recommended that hospital insurance protection be provided initially without regard to insured status that is, that people at or near retirement age be grand-fathered into the new program.

Even as the Council was meeting, the Congress was actively considering proposals to provide health insurance benefits. In 1965, the Congress passed "Medicare" legislation, which, while it essentially embodied the Advisory Council's recommendations, differed in two major respects. First, in addition to providing protection against hospital costs through a payroll tax financed hospital insurance (HI) program, the plan enacted also included a voluntary program to be financed through monthly premiums and Federal general revenues. This supplementary medical insurance (SMI) program was designed to meet the costs of physicians' services and other outpatient care. Second, only people aged 65 and over, rather than both the aged and disabled, would be eligible for Medicare. (A few years later, in 1972, Medicare protection was extended to people who had been receiving cash disability benefits for 24 months or more.)

With the advent of Medicare, the body of programs which we refer to today as "Social Security" was complete. Yet, while there have been no major additions to the system over the last 15 years or so, there has been continuing public and congressional reassessment of the ongoing role of Social Security in the Nation's income support structure. For example, the 1975 Advisory Council on Social Security firmly endorsed the basic purposes and principles of the program, noting that:

"The earnings-related OASDI program should remain the Nation's primary means of providing economic security in the event of retirement, death, or disability. It should be supplemented by effective private pensions, individual insurance, savings, and other investments and it should be undergirded by effective means-tested programs. Future changes in OASDI should conform to the fundamental principles of the program: universal compulsory coverage, earnings-related benefits paid without a test of need, and contributions toward the cost of the program from covered workers and employers."

With respect to the OASDI programs, legislative considerations over these years have focused on three fundamental issues:

  • Maintaining the value of benefits over time
  • Assuring the financial soundness of the system and
  • Structuring the disability program so as to maintain its responsiveness to the needs of the disabled while curbing the potential for abuse.

As noted earlier, the Congress acted to increase benefits from time to time during the 1950's and 1960's. Nevertheless, there was concern that during the intervals between these ad hoc benefit increases, inflation eroded the purchasing power of benefits. The 1971 Advisory Council examined this issue and recommended that Social Security benefits be adjusted automatically to keep pace with increases in prices. The Council said:

"An automatic adjustments system would, the Council believes, give to both present and future beneficiaries a greater sense of security than would exist if a benefit increase can take place only after an action by the Congress. Beneficiaries would be assured, by virtue of an explicit provision in the law, that the purchasing power of their benefits would not deteriorate because of inflation."

In order to assure that Social Security would provide a consistent level of protection to workers over time as earnings levels rose, and to restrain payroll tax rates as benefit levels increased, the Council further recommended that the contribution and benefit base be increased automatically to reflect earnings growth. In conjunction with these recommendations, the Council also recommended that actuarial cost estimates for the program be based on assumptions that earnings levels would rise over time.* The Council also reaffirmed the view of prior Councils that the program should be financed on a current-cost basis in the near term and advocated frank recognition of this policy in longer-range financial planning.

(* Before 1972, actuarial estimates of program costs over the long range were based on level cost assumptions--that is, it was assumed that wage and price levels, as well as benefit levels, would remain unchanged over the 75-year valuation period. As wages did in fact increase, surpluses accumulated that could be and were used to finance benefit increases.)

In 1972, the Congress approved legislation that established automatic cost-of-living adjustments (COLA's) in benefits based on price increases as measured by the Consumer Price Index and provided for automatically increasing the maximum amount of earnings covered under the system. Moreover, the payroll tax schedule adopted in 1972 reflected the 1971 Council's recommendations with respect to both the basis for 75-year cost estimates and current-cost financing. Soon after the automatic COLA provision took effect, it became evident that combining the automatic-indexing procedures with the existing benefit table resulted in a computation procedure that, because it took into account both wage and price increases, unduly increased benefits for workers who would retire in the future. This overcompensation resulted in cost projections which showed that the tax rates scheduled in the law would be inadequate to meet the long-range costs of the program.

Based on the recommendations of the 1975 Advisory Council, the Congress in 1977 addressed the problems by establishing a new "decoupled" benefit-computation formula for workers becoming newly eligible or dying after 1978. Under the new formula, which replaced the benefit table in the law, initial benefits are increased to reflect increases in average wages before workers reach retirement age, and the purchasing power of benefits is guaranteed after retirement through cost-of-living increases.

At the time that the 1977 amendments were enacted, it was thought that, due to the lower long-range costs resulting from the new benefit formula, changes the Congress made in the tax rate schedule would be adequate to finance benefit payments well into the next century. However, over the next few years, the Nation experienced a period of spiraling inflation and high unemployment along with low or negative real wage growth. These worse-than-expected economic conditions created a two-pronged drain on Social Security in the short term.

  • Benefit expenditures were pushed up rapidly by high inflation, while payroll taxes went up more slowly because of the relatively slower growth in wages and
  • High unemployment reduced payroll taxes.

In addition, new long-range projections showed that the decline in the birth rate and the likelihood of increased life expectancy would both have negative effects on Social Security in the 21st century, fewer workers would be paying taxes and retirees would be receiving benefits longer.

Due to these problems, it soon became clear that without significant further congressional action, the OASI Trust Fund would be unable to pay benefits on time by some point in the 1980's. Thus, in December 1981, President Reagan announced the formation of the National Commission on Social Security Reform (NCSSR) "to work with the President and the Congress to reach two specific goals: propose realistic, long-term reform to put social security back on a sound financial footing and forge a working bipartisan consensus so that the necessary reforms will be passed into law."

The NCSSR reported on January 20, 1983. Based on the recommendations of the NCSSR, the Congress enacted the so-called "bipartisan compromise" 1983 amendments. This package of provisions was designed to resolve the financing crisis by sharing the burden among affected groups, present and future. Among the major provisions of the 1983 legislation that became effective in the near term were:

  • Advances in tax rate increases already scheduled in the law for employees and employers
  • Permanent increases in self-employment tax rates
  • Delays in the effective date of automatic COLA's in benefits from June to December of each year and
  • Inclusion of up to half of benefits in taxable income for certain high-income beneficiaries (and appropriation of the resulting revenues to the trust funds).

In the long range, in recognition of improvements in longevity, the 1983 amendments provided for gradually increasing the age of eligibility for unreduced retirement benefits. Workers born after 1937 will be the first to be affected by this change the provision will be fully effective for workers born after 1959, for whom unreduced benefits will be available at age 67. Benefits will continue to be available at age 62, but the reduction in benefits at age 62 will increase as the age of eligibility for unreduced benefits increases.

As a result of enactment of the 1983 legislation, OASDI benefits can be paid on time in the short run and well into the next century on the basis of even the most pessimistic economic and demographic assumptions used by the Social Security Trustees in making projections. During the 1990's, current projections show, substantial excesses of income over outgo will replenish program reserves and build up substantial trust funds. After the turn of the century, program costs will rise substantially as the baby boom generation reaches retirement age, and use of trust fund assets will be necessary.

With the enactment of the 1983 amendments, which assured the soundness of the Social Security system both through the 1980's and well into the 21st century, the Congress once again reaffirmed its commitment to the use of the social insurance mechanism as the Nation's first line of defense against dependency in old age, disability, or upon the death of a worker.

During the past decade and a half, the disability insurance program has also undergone substantial change. During the early 1970's, the disability insurance (DI) program began to experience tremendous growth. As the decade unfolded, it became clear that continuing rapid growth in the DI program was beginning to pose a serious threat to the DI Trust Fund. Studies aimed at discovering the causes of the unexpected growth in the disability program suggested that (1) the beneficiary rolls included many ineligibles, and (2) the program structure tended to discourage people who might be able to return to work from doing so.

The Social Security Disability Amendments of 1980 included a limit on monthly family disability benefits, additional work incentive provisions, and administrative improvements, including mandatory reviews, at least once every 3 years, of the continuing eligibility of disabled beneficiaries whose disabilities are not necessarily permanent. On the basis of these amendments, the financial solvency of the DI Trust Fund was restored, and, in fact, the trust fund was projected to increase rapidly after 1981.

Shortly after implementation of the 1980 amendments, however, the periodic review provision began to be criticized by the public and Congress. Although, beginning in 1982, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services made many administrative changes to deal with these criticisms, public and congressional attention remained fixed on the DI program, as advocacy groups for the disabled petitioned Congress for legislative relief. Throughout 1982 and 1983, amidst great controversy, the Congress considered a variety of reforms to mitigate the effects of the periodic review process.

These efforts culminated in the enactment of the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984. The major provisions are mandatory application of a medical improvement standard in continuing disability reviews, continuation of disability benefit payments during appeal of termination decisions, and a moratorium on reviews of cases involving mental impairments pending development of revised review criteria.

Today, 37 million people get Social Security benefits of more than $15 billion a month OASDI benefits this year will total $188 billion. In 1985, about 122 million people will work in employment covered under Social Security, which applies today to 95 percent of all jobs in our economy.

As a Nation, we can take particular pride in having made the Social Security program the most successful domestic program in our history. Over the years, Social Security has been a vital contributor to the security of virtually all Americans. Today, 50 years after its inception, it remains the foundation of well-being for us in our later years or if we are disabled and for our families if we die before retirement.

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Watch the video: WW2 Day by Day: December 24th 1939