In a blog post today at the New Yorker, Henrik Hertzberg pointed to a Politico article by Bruce Schulman, “House should grit teeth, pass Senate bill” in which Schulman describes how far short of its original goals the 1935 Social Security Act fell, yet how influential its impact since then has been.
Of course, the final product scaled down all FDR’s original ambitions. It excluded agriculture, domestics and small shops with fewer than 10 workers — a decision ensuring that African-Americans, large numbers of whom toiled as farm workers and domestics, would be without protection. It took three decades of gradual expansion before Social Security covered every worker — a long, hard slog.
By the time the last compromise was made, Perkins expressed the disillusionment of many reformers. The thing,” she lamented, had been “chiseled down to a conservative pattern.”[…]Even with the compromises present at its creation, FDR, Perkins remembered, considered Social Security “the cornerstone” of his legacy. President Barack Obama and the Congress might well remember that model.