The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Video: The Frances Perkins Center looks back at 2010

In General, The Center on January 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Click on the photo to play the video

Flabby thinking on longevity and Social Security

In General on January 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Did you make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and get more exercise? Good, that’s what the majority of us need to do in order to avoid diabetes type 2 in middle age. Even so, it is estimated that

In the next 25 years, the number of Americans living with diabetes will nearly double, increasing from 23.7 million in 2009 to 44.1 million in 2034. (source) [And that’s assuming that obesity rates stay the same, instead of continuing to increase, for those 25 years.)

What does this dire prediction have to do with Social Security? Well, much of the concern about the long-term viability of the Social Security program has been built on the claim that the life expectancy of American workers is rising.

That concern has been debunked quite thoroughly in a number of places (sources) but here’s another reason why it’s a “straw man” in the argument.

In an analysis of the Framingham Heart Study, diabetic men and women age 50 and older died on average 7.5 and 8.2 years earlier, respectively, than those who did not have diabetes. (source)

If the incidence of diabetes is increasing at such a rapid rate, surely that will have an effect on the average lifespan of people who collect Social Security benefits. According to the Center for Disease Control, “Almost 25 percent of the population 60 years and older had diabetes in 2007.”

This increase in diabetes is a national catastrophe. It has huge implications for medical costs. And it’s something we all want to avoid.

So, do eat healthy foods and get your daily exercise. But don’t let anyone tell you that Social Security is going under because of Americans’ increased life expectancy rates. Unfortunately, we aren’t all living longer.

American worker safety is still an issue

In Biography, General on April 26, 2010 at 8:10 am
Frances Perkins inspecting a factory.

Frances Perkins inspecting a factory.

Frances Perkins was galvanized by personally witnessing the horrifying Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, in which 146 young workers died. From that time onward, she worked to create legislation that would provide safeguards for workers, going from New York’s Factory Investigation Commission to FDR’s Cabinet as secretary of labor from 1933 – 1945.

Almost 100 years after the Triangle fire, the issue of worker safety is still in the news, most recently with the tragedies at the Massey mine in West Virginia and the British Petroleum oil rig blast.

Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research and speaker at the Frances Perkins Center’s 2009 conference, “The New New Deal,” has written several articles for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog, “Brainstorm,” about these recent disasters. In Who Needs Pesky Unions, Ghilarducci wrote:

All the recent disasters are in non-union mines. Union muscle make companies work better and safer. One reason is that, in union contracts, mine workers are protected from being disciplined if they stop work because of unsafe conditions. If a union miner says, “Hey, the belt is about to catch fire — I’m getting out of here,” he (or she) can’t be fired.

Humans in the 20th century learned to mine coal without carnage. Britain does it, Germany does it, and other countries do too. In Europe and Japan, computer sensors detect methane buildup and mining companies have to hire safety officers who are in their own union and who only monitor safety, not production. In American mines, the supervisors have to monitor safety and be responsible for production. Guess what goal is number one!?

And in More Energy Workers Killed, she wrote:

The causes of these deaths are not freak gassy build ups—as if the earth violently struck back at humans for using fossil fuels…

The cause of worker deaths is a plain old economic deal. The government made a deal that BP and Massey Coal can operate in the United States without adequate precautions for making the workplace tolerably safe.

If Frances Perkins were alive, she’d be voicing her outrage along with Ghilarducci. It’s shocking that the U.S. is far behind other countries in protecting our workers.

Thinkin’ ’bout social justice

In General on March 19, 2010 at 10:19 am

Click on the picture to view the clip.

Update: Frances Perkins Center board member Sarah Peskin pointed out the wording of the New York Times alert about Sunday’s vote on the health care bill: “Democrats hailed the votes as historic, comparable to the establishment of Medicare and Social Security and a long overdue step forward in social justice.”

Frances Perkins Center seeks personal stories for historic collection

In General, Programs on March 17, 2010 at 2:53 pm

A Grant from National Academy of Social Insurance supports “Celebrating Social Security—In Our Own Words!

The Frances Perkins Center has received a grant from the National Academy of Social Insurance through funds provided by the Ford Foundation to create a multimedia celebration of the 75th anniversary of the creation of Social Security. Part of the project includes a national competition for personal stories about the effect of this landmark federal program on the lives of Americans.

More than 51 million Americans today are recipients of Social Security, a program created during the Great Depression by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help people needing financial assistance. The program’s foremost champion was FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, a former social worker who had observed the distress of elderly people no longer able to work and the desperate poverty of orphaned children and families that lose a breadwinner.

The enactment of Social Security in 1935 ushered in, for the first time, the experience of the “Golden Years” for retirees, and today more than 90 percent of older Americans receive Social Security benefits. For more than a third of them, it is their sole source of income. Social Security is also a vital safety net for the disabled and for children who lose a parent or are orphaned.

This program transformed the country, allowing Americans to lead more secure lives than in any other century in American history. Social Security benefits are more important than ever amid the current economic downturn, providing a dependable monthly income that recipients then spend in local stores and businesses.

The Frances Perkins Center will celebrate Social Security’s 75th anniversary year by highlighting the ways the program has been an essential anchor for economic security and stability for American families  through the telling of personal stories. The best essays will be selected for posting on the Frances Perkins Center website and other social networking sites, and about 20 will be nominated for publication in Celebrating Social Security–In Our Own Words! The project will feature essays from today’s leading authorities on the program, including historians, policy experts, celebrities, elected officials, economists, and academics. “The personal stories from everyday people are what will bring the program to life for readers,” says the Center’s executive director, Barbara Burt. “The history is important, but the essays are what will make the collection compelling to read.”

Essays should be no longer than 400 words. Writers must include their name, address, telephone number and email address, and be willing to allow their work to be widely publicized. Email entries are preferred and should be sent to with “Social Security Essay” in the subject line. Entries can also be sent by mail to: Social Security Essay Contest, Frances Perkins Center, PO Box 281, Newcastle, Maine 04553-0281.

Thank you

In General on December 30, 2009 at 9:27 am

Here’s to a productive and effective New Year — working together for social justice and economic fairness!

Wreath on The Brick House woodshed door (photo: Christopher Rice)

It’s been a great first year for the Frances Perkins Center, thanks to the participation of so many wonderful people and organizations. Here’s a quick rundown of some of our activities:

In January, publication of Adam Cohen’s book, Nothing to Fear, started things off with its strong focus on Frances Perkins’s contribution to FDR’s first 100 days; in February we held several of our popular “Fireside Chats” at the Center; in March, Center board member Kirstin Downey hit the spotlight with her monumental biography, The Woman Behind the New Deal; we held a national “launch” celebration in April in the Great Hall at the Department of Labor in Washington, followed by a reception at the historic Women’s National Democratic Club; in May, many progressive organizations joined us for our conference, “The New New Deal: Building an Economy That Works for All of Us,” in Belfast, Maine; our Garden Party in June at the Center brought many to see the gardens and meet our six Frances Perkins honorees–women who’ve carried on her spirit in Maine–on one of the few sunny days that month; we were introduced to a wider audience in July by our appearance on Maine Public Television’s “Maine Watch”; in August our wonderful intern from Mount Holyoke College, Sichu Mali, concluded her three-month effort cataloguing photos, letters, and articles at the Center; in September we put together our first Senior College course on Frances Perkins; in October we started making plans for 2010 (more about that later); and in November we were thrilled to view the opening of the exhibit of Frances Perkins’s papers at the Butler Library at Columbia University in New York. In December we began working with a coalition of more than 40 national organizations fighting an attempt to cut Social Security and Medicare, launching a petition opposing the attack.

Today we’re stopping to catch our breath and look back over the year and say, “THANK YOU!” to all of you who have participated in one way or another. We’ve made so many new friends and pressed so many old friends into service, the Frances Perkins Center is becoming a remarkable community.

We have an exciting plan for 2010 and important work to do, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Social Security, which Frances Perkins called her greatest achievement. The anniversary coincides with yet another attempt to diminish Social Security, which makes our highlighting the program’s significance that much more important. We’re kicking it all off with a conference and film premiere on January 14th in New York; for more information or to register, go to There are more events and activities to come after that, but we don’t want to spoil the surprise now…

In the meantime, here’s a gentle reminder that there are only a few days left in 2009 in which to make a contribution to the Frances Perkins Center. As a fledgling organization, every dollar makes a difference. Any size contribution you make will be greatly appreciated. To make a contribution, go to

Thank you for all the ways you’ve participated in our mission this year. We look forward to having you on our team in 2010.

A Couple with Unwavering Determination

In General on June 22, 2009 at 10:18 am

By Sichu Mali, summer intern

Judy and Kevin Simpson

Judy and Kevin Simpson

Last Wednesday evening, I was listening to Ed Desgrosseilliers at the 2009 Watering Can Awards Celebration program as he was presenting The Social Landscape Artist Award to Kevin and Judy Simpson. I was impressed with the vigor that the Simpson couple brought to the stage.

What struck me the most about them was the sheer amount of time that they had dedicated to social justice causes. They have been involved in civil rights and community service for well over four decades. In the 1960s, they had worked with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Congress On Racial Equality to end school segregation and housing discrimination. Besides striving for racial equality, they had also advocated for peace and non violence. They had been active in the movement to bring U.S. troops home from Vietnam. Besides, they had led the local chapter of Neighbor to Neighbor while disapproving U.S.-funded violence in Central America. Their commitment to social justice has been not limited to race and peace issues. Lately, they have joined Maine People’s Alliance and are now campaigning for single-payer health care, fair taxation and the Employee Free Choice Act- an act that would amend the National Labor Relations Act to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts.

One could not help but be touched with their unwavering determination. Even after all these years, they are still actively pushing for social and economic reforms. Their faith in a progressive society still remains strong. As Judy would say, “Injustice is not a permanent feature of the world. We just keep at it and along the way, we manage to inspire others.”

The issues championed by the Simpsons were the issues Frances Perkins had defended throughout her life. Minimum wage, collective bargaining, employment assistance, social security and unemployment insurance were the topics that Frances included in the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Social Security Act when she drafted them. At Frances Perkins Center, we honor her vision and serve to raise awareness of Frances’s work. As a part of a project for this event, I put together an exhibit about Frances Perkins and the Frances Perkins Center which is displayed below: