* * * August 14, 1935, was a milestone in the American people's journey to freedom from want and fear. On that day Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. In signing it President Roosevelt said:
This law, too, represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete. That was a quarter century ago. Today social security is so much a part of our lives that we take it for granted. We forget it was won only over the bitter opposition of Republican leaders.
Mr. Nixon recently sounded the Republican Party's familiar election-year promises for improvement. He called for a "new medical offensive." But what is the Republican record? What is Mr. Nixon's record?
In 1935, when Franklin Roosevelt asked for a Social Security Act, 90 percent of the Republicans voted against it.
In 1936, the Republican candidate for President called social security a "cruel hoax" and a "fraud."
For 25 years they have kept up a steady attack on social security, resisting improvements and trying to cut its benefits.
In 1949 Mr. Nixon and 110 other Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to cut out benefits for those who were disabled.
In 1956, the Republican administration opposed lowering the retirement age for women. Thirty-eight of the 44 Republicans in the Senate opposed benefits for the permanently disabled.
In 1958, the Republican administration and 33 of the 39 Republican Senators opposed an increase in benefits to meet the rise in the cost of living.
After he became Vice President Mr. Nixon did not appear in the Senate to break a tie vote on a measure to increase payments to old people, the blind, and the measure was lost.
Until the closing moments of Congress this year, Mr. Nixon and the Republican administration opposed any action upon health care for our elder citizens - calling for a "study" and a report in 1961.
The Republican Party has been inconsistent on many issues. But on one issue it has been wholly consistent for a quarter of a century. It has attempted to wreck social security. And it can count on Richard Nixon to lead its wrecking crew.
Despite 25 years of opposition, the Democratic Party built the social security system and it stands today, a Gibraltar for our older citizens, paying monthly benefits to over 10 million retired people and half a million disabled people, a million widows and 2 million widowed mothers and their children.
Yet, as Franklin Roosevelt said, although we have come a long way we still have far to go. And I say it's time to get moving.
There are 16 million Americans 65 or older - men and women who built this country - but men and women who still cannot face old age free of fear and want.
I am not satisfied when well over half our older citizens are so financially insecure, so burdened with illness, so poorly fed, clothed and housed, that their years have brought problems rather than privileges, sorrow instead of security, and debts instead of dignity.
I am not satisfied when-
Three out of five persons over 65 are trying to get by on cash incomes of less than $1,000 a year; I say this isn't good enough. I say we can do better.
Retired couples on social security are receiving an average of $120 a month, and widows an average of $56 a month in 1960 when the cost of living is at an all-time high.
Eight out of 10 people over 65 suffer from some chronic disease, more than half have no private health insurance at all, and the cost of medical care has skyrocketed.
Thousands of our older citizens who are able and willing to work cannot find work because employers tell them that 65 is too old to work - or for that matter, in some instances, 50 or even 45.
Thousands of older people are in mental hospitals even though their primary need is not psychiatric treatment but because there is no other place for them.
Thousands more live in rundown crowded apartments in the blighted sections of our cities because they can afford nothing else.
I propose immediate action upon a seven-point program to help create the necessary climate for a productive and satisfying life in later years.
First: We must make available a medical insurance program based on the proven social security system. It must be fiscally sound and administratively simple and it must permit each individual to select his own hospital and doctor. I feel strongly that there must be no means test, no Republican pauper's oath, for medical care. Already 214 million of our older citizens are compelled to rely on public assistance for their daily needs. It would be cruel to force another 12 million to undergo a means test before they receive aid. And it is not necessary. The social security approach is proved and successful. It is consistent with honor, dignity and individual self-reliance. Our older citizens want insurance, not charity, and they will pay for it as they go. And it requires no special appropriations by the Congress and each of the 50 States every year. President Eisenhower has insisted that every new welfare proposal should include taxes to pay for it. This is the only method of meeting that test.
Opponents of medical care have pretended that it would lead to socialized medicine. Let me make it perfectly clear that I have always opposed socialized medicine and that what the Republicans really oppose is adequate medical care. In 1935 they pretended that social security would sovietize America. Did it?
Second: We must increase social security benefit payments to keep pace with the rising cost of living. In terms of today's high prices, benefits have become so meager that for many people retirement has become little more than a mirage. A lifetime of work and a lifetime of payments into an insurance fund deserve at least the basic comforts of life. Cost-of-living increases are probably more important to our older citizens than any other group, for they have no union to protect them any they are unable to raise prices like businessmen. It is time we recognized our responsibility to see that they do not suffer because of fluctuations in the economy beyond their control.
Third: We must improve employment opportunities for older workers and combat age discrimination in employment. We must expand our program for retraining older workers and our effort to educate employers on the value of older workers. We must end all age discrimination by U.S. Government contractors and subcontractors. We must, through our regular employment services, do more to help older people find part-time work.
Fourth: We must amend the Social Security Act to encourage, not penalize, those older people who are able and willing to work. We should increase the retirement benefit for each additional year of work after 65, and raise the $1,200-a-year ceiling on what a worker may earn while still drawing social security.
Fifth: We must expand and accelerate the program to provide low-cost housing for the aged, a Democratic program enacted by a Democratic Congress despite two administration vetoes. Direct Federal loans have provided financial incentive in this field and should be increased. We can make loans to elderly persons who wish to purchase a home; and Government assistance can be provided in the conversion of existing housing to meet the special requirements of the elderly.
Sixth : We must step up our program of medical research on genetics, the problems of aging in all their aspects, including mental health. And we must provide for the establishment of clinics at the community level for the early detection, and thus the prevention, of many of the diseases that afflict the aged, for early diagnosis is often the key. The Federal Government should also encourage and assist local communities to establish organized home programs, nutritional guidance, and coordinated community health services which have already helped old people greatly to achieve self-reliance and vigor.
Seventh: We must increase the provision for rehabilitation and training of the physically and mentally handicapped. This is not solely a problem of our older citizens, but it strikes them particularly hard. Here again, Federal-State cooperation can be extremely effective.
As we move forward, the Republican leaders will obstruct the way. They will say we can't afford it, I say we cannot refuse to afford it.
In 1900 there were only 3 million persons over 65. Today there are 16 million and by 1975 there will be an estimated 22 million. Moreover, a child born in 1900 could expect to live only to the age of 47, but today to the age of 70, an additional 23 years of life.
What this amounts to is that we have created a whole new generation of men and women in our society.
And this in turn means one of two things. Either this generation will be recognized for what it is, an invaluable storehouse of accumulated wisdom and experience, or it will be thrown on the scrapheap. As in every other area of our national life, the decision is ours to make.