The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Posts Tagged ‘FDR’

Frances Perkins’s book, “The Roosevelt I Knew,” reissued as a Penguin Classic

In Biography on June 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm

The Frances Perkins Center is pleased to announce the re-issuance as a Penguin Classic of The Roosevelt I Knew, Frances Perkins’ memoir of her years working with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Originally published in November of 1946, it was the first definitive biography of Roosevelt, covering their years together from their first meeting in 1910 until his death in April of 1945.  The book quickly made its way to the top of the bestseller list, where it remained for ten weeks.  Even though out of print for several years, The Roosevelt I Knew has continued to make an enduring contribution to Roosevelt scholarship.

According to Christopher Breiseth, President Emeritus of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and Frances Perkins Center Board member, “Perhaps no political colleague was closer to FDR and understood him better over a longer period of time than Frances Perkins.  The portrait she drew within a year of his death in The Roosevelt I Knew was intimate, insightful, appreciative, candid and critical – all qualities that characterized their relationship.  At the same time, the self-portrait of Madame Secretary was telling.  The recent renewed interest in Frances Perkins’s extraordinary contributions to the domestic agenda of the New Deal will be deepened by Penguin Press’s reissuing of The Roosevelt I Knew, a wonderful by-product of this happy event.”

Adam Cohen, former New York Times editorial writer and author of Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days that Created Modern America, has written the introduction to this new edition.  Cohen opens the book with an assessment of its author: “If American history textbooks accurately reflected the past, Frances Perkins would be recognized as one of the nation’s greatest heroes – as iconic as Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Paine.  Like Franklin, Perkins was a brilliant self-creation….  Like Paine, Perkins helped to start a revolution….  The New Deal was Perkins’ revolution, and it did nothing less than create modern America.”  Cohen will be the keynote speaker at the Frances Perkins Center’s annual Garden Party on Thursday, August 4th at The Brick House, Perkins’ home in Newcastle.

The book will be available on Tuesday, June 28th at the Maine Coast Book Shop in Damariscotta and other local, as well as online, book sellers.

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Payroll tax holiday — another idea that could come from the Grinch

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2010 at 3:04 pm

During the Reagan era, an administration staffer came up with the term “starve the beast” when discussing his perceived solution of cutting taxes to force a reduction in government spending.

Today, opponents of Social Security, who evidently consider the program a “beast,” are working overtime to cut its funding and thus force the pay-as-you-go program to reduce benefits — perhaps eventually leading to a far different program.

These opponents lost out on the Deficit Commission; they needed 14 commissioners to vote for the plan, which created huge cuts to Social Security benefits, in order to force a vote on the plan in Congress. They only got 11 votes.

So, their new tactic is to force Congress to pass a “payroll tax holiday,” cutting everyone’s Social Security tax payments by two percent.

It sounds so nice — a holiday! — yet the end result would be disastrous for the program.

Recent polls show that people are willing to pay more in taxes to maintain Social Security as it is (or even improve it — imagine that!). But once a two-year cut of two percent of payroll taxes is in place, it seems unlikely that the two percent will be reinstated. That would be a “tax increase,” just as getting rid of the “temporary” Bush tax cuts for the wealthy is a “tax increase.”

They know that no politician likes raising taxes and few have the guts to stand up to the demagoguery around that label.

So these Grinches may have their fondest “holiday” wishes come true: Social Security is starved for income as the baby-boomers retire; the program resorts to means testing, turning it into a welfare program instead of the social insurance program envisioned by Frances Perkins and FDR; benefits, now insufficient, become more and more meager; and some sort of privatization is put into place.

There’s no happy ending to that Grinch’s story.

What issues would Frances Perkins be tackling today?

In Economics, New Deal Legislation on September 21, 2010 at 9:20 am

I’ll lead off with this stunning chart from Matthew Iglesias’s blog on ThinkProgress. Note that red line.

povertytrends

You see a lot of different things happening here. One is poverty among seniors declining thanks to Great Society expansion of retirement support programs. The other is a jump in poverty for non-seniors during the 1978-82 period that persisted throughout the Reagan-Bush years. This was in part driven by an increase in the proportion of female-headed households without husbands, but the same pattern appears within that subset. We then had a giant reduction in poverty among this group in the 1990s which was a combination of strong economic performance, “welfare reform,” and also the fact that the Clinton administration really wanted to make welfare reform work so threw lots of stuff—EITC expansion, SCHIP, etc.—at making it work. Then we saw a slow, steady erosion of that progress.

———————————————————

Then I want to quote the author of the new book, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life by Thomas Geoghegan. This is an excerpt from an interview with Geoghegan that appeared in Salon in late August:

How did Germany become such a great place to work in the first place?

The Allies did it. This whole European model came, to some extent, from the New Deal. Our real history and tradition is what we created in Europe. Occupying Germany after WWII, the 1945 European constitutions, the UN Charter of Human Rights all came from Eleanor Roosevelt and the New Dealers. All of it got worked into the constitutions of Europe and helped shape their social democracies. It came from us. The papal encyclicals on labor, it came from the Americans.

As the Salon introduction notes, in Germany “they have six weeks of federally mandated vacation, free university tuition, nursing care, and childcare.” And, while a six week vacation would surely be welcomed by single mothers and their families, it’s the last three items that really make the difference. Affordable higher education, accessible preventive health care, and affordable quality childcare — those are the big pieces missing in the United States today. And without them, single mothers face a very difficult uphill battle.

While Geoghegan credits Eleanor Roosevelt, certainly Frances Perkins was right in there, also. We know that Perkins was engaged in the drafting and dissemination of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights. And what a different society we would be living in today if that agenda had been carried forward in the U.S. as it was in Germany and the other countries of the E.U.

Here is that Second Bill of Rights (1944):

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

Frances Perkins: The Force Behind Social Security

In Biography, New Deal Legislation on August 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm

[Reposted with permission from New Deal 2.0.]

by Bryce Covert

We may not have our social safety net if it weren’t for her tireless work.

Social Security is, rightly, thought of as one of the major accomplishments of FDR’s presidency. But he wasn’t alone in the fight, and the whole project may have failed if not for the passion of Frances Perkins, his Secretary of Labor. Indeed, Perkins sometimes had to fight against FDR’s whims to secure a package that would ensure a better future for American citizens.

Perkins was born to working-class parents who were very supportive of her education, sending her to Mount Holyoke College for undergraduate studies. Later in her life, what was likely bipolar disorder left her husband, economist Paul C. Wilson, unable to continue his career and act as breadwinner. This may have propelled Perkins into pursuing her own career, to which she devoted all of her energy.

Perkins witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 first-hand, and it galvanized her crusade to protect American workers. After studying economics and sociology at Columbia and Wharton, she worked at settlement houses and then as a factory inspector for New York State. She later became Commissioner of Labor for the State of New York under Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would go on to invite her to be his Secretary of Labor as president. Before taking the position, she brought a laundry list of ideas to FDR as collateral for her acceptance. He accepted them, and she went on to hold the position for 12 years. FDR would eventually name her to 18 separate committees. She worked for reforms in favor of workers and to combat the Great Depression. But her crowning achievement may very well have been the Social Security Act.

During the Great Depression, 6.5 million people were sixty-five or over and few had money set aside for old age — and those who had set money aside saw it disappear in the economic crash. Only about 300,000 had public pensions, 150,000 had pensions from private employers or unions, and 700,000 had federal relief. The rest were on their own.

FDR had drawn up ideas to tackle these issues when he got into office, but officials were too busy to deal with them. A year into his presidency, Perkins decided the time was right, notes biographer Kirstin Downey in “The Woman Behind the New Deal.” “She nagged the president to get it started. ‘It is probably our only chance in twenty-five years to get a bill like this,’ she told Roosevelt.” She knew that the dire conditions of the Great Depression were the only hope for passing something so radical: “Nothing else would have bumped the American people into social security except something so shocking, so terrifying, as that depression,” Perkins later said.

With rampant joblessness, Perkins went after unemployment first. But as unemployment insurance seemed ready to sail through passage, FDR decided instead to focus on a bundle of programs under the label ‘economic security.’ The whole thing would have to wait. Downey gives us the subsequent scene: Perkins “hit the roof. ‘That man, that man!’ she muttered. She ripped over to the White House. The next day, FDR told the press conference that he was ‘tremendously’ for the bill.” The two worked together for an “expansive version of an ‘economic security’ package that would cover people from cradle to grave,” Downey writes:

The concept included not only unemployment insurance, which would tide over the jobless workers who were the primary source of support to children and old people, but also old-age pensions, which Frances was eager to promote; health insurance, so people would have medical care, even when they had no money; and financial assistance for the handicapped and for widowed women with children. Many women earned so little money that losing their husbands meant that they must put their youngsters to work or place them in orphanages.

The package would provide “security against the hazards and vicissitudes of life,” in FDR’s words.

FDR named Perkins chair of the committee on economic security, set to craft the legislation. And she wanted to hold people firmly to the mission of the program. “In a meeting with Roosevelt present, she went around the table and extracted from each of the major members of her committee a pledge to support the program being prepared by the committee. Publicly obligated, they could not back down later,” Downey describes. But she couldn’t always keep the fickle Roosevelt to it, and after making his initial announcement to create the committee he neglected to allot money to it. That didn’t stop Perkins, though. “Frances went hat in hand to raise money and borrow staff from other departments,” reports Downey.

The process was rough going, with worries over court challenges to the final legislation, internal struggles within the committee, and even FDR himself publicly doubting whether it was the right time to deal with old age security. Details were hard to resolve and they were close to bumping up against the arbitrary Christmas deadline FDR had set. On December 22 or 23, Frances called committee leaders to her home, “led them into the dining room, placed a large bottle of Scotch on the table, and told them no one would leave until the work was done,” Downey writes. They met the deadline.

Troubles for the bill continued. Treasury Department conservatives raised fears that it risked “alarming business,” while liberals worried the provisions were so weak as to have “little value.” (Sound familiar?) Opposition to the bill became so heavy that a New York Times March 30, 1935 headline declared “Hopes Are Fading for Security Bill.” But Perkins toiled on, determined. She secured 50 signatures from prominent people to a letter urging passage, and “the tide began to turn,” notes Downey. The House passed the bill, and then it passed the Senate, but not before a caveat was inserted that made the Social Security Board entirely independent of Perkins’ department. She would not run the Board, but no matter what her personal disappointment may have been, she helped push the bill through.

Perkins’ tireless, selfless work paid off in the end, and FDR signed the bill into law on August 14, 1935. On the day of the signing, Perkins said it was “one of the most forward-looking pieces of legislation in the interest of wage earners.” By 1936, 1 million people were receiving benefits, made up of nearly 750,000 elderly, 184,000 dependent children, and 18,000 blind.

We owe much to FDR’s vision as a progressive president, but we also owe a great deal to the passion and perseverance of Frances Perkins. Without her, it is very likely that the social programs included in the Social Security Act would never have come to be. Charles Wyzanski later said that she “virtually forced the President to have a Social Security program.” Indeed, Maurine Mulliner, an assistant to Senator Robert Wagner, said, “The one person, in my opinion, above all others who was responsible for there being a Social Security program in the early 30s was Frances Perkins.” The program lives on, her gift to the American people.

Bryce Covert is Assistant Editor at New Deal 2.0.

Time to think big like a Roosevelt

In Biography, New Deal Legislation on June 8, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Photo of an illustrated pillow from Michigan.

Robert Reich, who is a member of the Frances Perkins Center’s advisory committee, suggested on Sunday on his blog that something good could potentially come out of the awful catastrophe of the oil spill in the Gulf — jobs. Here’s a quote:

Friday’s job report was awful. For most new high school and college grads finding a job is harder than ever. Meanwhile, states are cutting summer jobs for disadvantaged young people. What to do with this army of young unemployed? Send them to the Gulf to clean up beaches and wetlands, and send the bill to BP.

…we’ve got hundreds of thousands of young people sitting on their hands right now because they can’t find jobs. Many are from affected coastal areas, where the tourist and fishing industries have been decimated by the spill.

The President should order BP to establish a $5 billion clean-up fund, and immediately put America’s army of unemployed young people to work saving the Gulf coast. Call it the new Civilian Conservation Corps.

Today, Laura Flanders, in her blog The Notion on The Nation’s website, takes it one step further. In her diary, Learning from Roosevelt(s), she says:

Obama could don the mantle of two Roosevelts at once. … Channel Teddy Roosevelt and stick it to the polluters and channel FDR and put people back to work — and create programs that create goodwill for generations.

President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps and  asked Frances Perkins to administer it, eventually putting three million young men and women to work from 1933 to 1942 building enduring landmarks that are cherished today. I hope President Obama will be inspired to think BIG like a Roosevelt. It’s the only way to tackle these two HUGE problems–the oil spill and pernicious unemployment.

Crocodile tears over a “crisis”

In Legislation on March 26, 2010 at 9:15 am

Alarmist news reports of the Congressional Budget Office’s pronouncement Wednesday that the Social Security Administration will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes have hit the front pages.

Yesterday, the New York Times headline read, “Social Security To See Payout Exceed Pay-In, At Tipping Point Years Ahead of Projection.” The reporter, Mary Williams Walsh, goes on to say: “The long-term costs of Social Security present further problems for politicians, who are already struggling over how to reduce the nation’s debt.”

But it seems politicians aren’t the only ones struggling; reporters seem to have a hard time understanding the way the Social Security system works.

Here are a few things important to keep in mind:

  • Social Security is an INSURANCE program, not a welfare program. That was an important feature of the program as initially conceived of by Frances Perkins and FDR, and remains so today.
  • Social Security trust fund currently holds $2.5 trillion in U.S. Government bonds. These investments are yours and mine, bought with our payments into the system. The trust fund earns interest on those bonds, and has additional income from earmarked income taxes.
  • Every year the Social Security trustees, and now the CBO as well, make projections about the future finances of Social Security. These forecasts change annually as the economy changes. Last year’s annual report of the trustees predicted that the unemployment rate would be 8.2 percent in 2009 and 8.8 percent in 2010. Unfortunately, that turns out to have been optimistic.
  • Ironically, while Social Security’s revenue has dropped due to unemployment, the benefits it provides have undoubtedly buoyed our sinking economy by providing a secure flow of income that finds its way into our Main Streets’ businesses.
  • Without any changes, the system is predicted to remain solvent until 2037.

The Times article ends with a quote by Alan Greenspan, who says, “Even if the trust fund level goes down, there’s no action required, until the level of the trust fund gets to zero. At that point you have to cut benefits, because benefits have to equal receipts.”

Not so. You can cut benefits, raise revenue, or do both. But why let the trust fund–remember, now at $2.5 trillion–get down to zero? There is plenty of time between today and 2037 to make small adjustments that will have a big payoff in the long run.

In an article on DailyFinance.com, reporter Douglas McIntyre hyperventilates:

The end game for Social Security may be that future American retirees won’t get that social safety net they had counted on, at least compared to what was available in the past.

Beware of those who show too much concern–crocodile tears–over the “fate” of Social Security. They’re likely to be the ones who say, “We had to destroy the [program] in order to save it.”

To put it all in perspective, in the Hill today,

Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, dismissed the idea that Social Security faces a crisis.

“9.7 percent unemployment is a crisis. Millions of people losing their home is a crisis,” he said. “The possibility that we might have to raise taxes somewhere in the next three decades is a trivial concern by comparison. Only someone too lost to recognize an $8 trillion housing bubble would worry about Social Security right now.”

Nothing to fear but… the deficit commission

In Legislation Today on March 5, 2010 at 11:58 am

Yesterday marked the anniversary of Frances Perkins’s swearing in as the first female Cabinet secretary in U.S. history. March 4, 1933 was also the date of FDR’s first inauguration, during which he uttered the famous line, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

If they were alive today, FDR and Frances Perkins would find lots to fear in the news coming out of Washington regarding Social Security, the centerpiece of the New Deal programs they instituted, improving life for millions of Americans.

Spurred on by fiscal hawks in the Congress, President Obama has created a commission to look at ways of reducing the deficit. This would not be a problem, except that (1) many economists feel that the overriding issue today is the need for increased stimulus spending to put people back to work — thus increasing the tax base and lessening the deficit, and (2) the forces behind the push for the commission have painted a bulls-eye on Social Security, a program they have been trying to diminish or even destroy for decades.

OBAMA’S APPOINTEES

So far, President Obama has appointed as co-chair retired Republican Senator Alan Simpson, who famously asked, “How did we get to a point in America where you get to a certain age in life, regardless of net worth or income, and you’re ‘entitled’?” (Duh, because you’ve paid Social Security taxes all your working life, Senator…) In 1995, then-Senator Simpson pushed for cuts to Social Security and attacked AARP, calling seniors, “greedy geezers.”

Great pick, President Obama. Not. Especially not, considering that Simpson, retired and not seeking reelection, won’t care about political pressure from voters. How nice to reside in an ivory tower and make policy affecting those “greedy geezers.”

Simpson’s co-chair is former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, labeled by BusinessWeek in 1998 as “corporate America’s friend in the White House.” He doesn’t have the anti-Social Security record of Simpson, but he’s not known as a particular friend, either.

Obama’s four other appointees are:
-SEIU President Andy Stern (who will stand strong to defent Social Security benefits)
-Honeywell Chairman, President, and CEO Dave Cote (Republican)
-former Young & Rubicam Brands Chairman and CEO Ann Fudge (major Obama Campaign fundraiser)
-Brookings Senior Fellow Alice Rivlin Stern, who has already suggested the need to raise the retirement age. (Sure, let’s keep those 65+ in the job market and make it even harder for young people to enter the workforce…)

OTHER APPOINTEES ANNOUNCED SO FAR

Senate President Harry Reid named Senators Durbin, Conrad, and Baucus to the commission. Durbin will be an advocate for Social Security; Conrad is already known as a foe, having initiated with Senator Gregg the idea for the commission. And Baucus, although ostensibly a supporter of Social Security, is a wild-card.

SOCIAL SECURITY NEEDS AT LEAST FIVE DEFENDERS

The Republican leadership in the House and Senate each get to choose three members, as do the Democrats, bringing the total to 18. The commission’s rules require 14 out of 18 possible votes to pass any recommendations. That means Social Security needs at least five staunch defenders to block attempts to raise the retirement age or lower Social Security benefits through other means.

So, the known Social Security saviors at this point are Stern and Durbin out of the nine appointees so far. It’s likely that all the Republicans will be anti-Social Security. That leaves Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s choices as the only additional three who could reliably be counted as defenders against the onslaught.

WHY ATTACK SOCIAL SECURITY?

Sixty national organizations signed a letter opposing the idea of a commission. AARP issued its own letter of opposition. The American people overwhelmingly support Social Security, though they’ve been fed enough lies to believe that it’s under severe financial stress and is contributing to the deficit. It isn’t and it isn’t.

How ironic that on the 75th anniversary of Social Security, during an economic crisis in which this incredibly successful public program has saved millions from destitution, our president would allow it to be the scapegoat for years of unbridled spending in the form of tax cuts for the wealthy and unnecessary war adventures.

Is the deficit a problem? Yes. Is Social Security to blame. No. The fact is, Social Security has helped provide a baseline of income to people who live in every neighborhood in America. How big would the deficit be without it?

For more information: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-02-26/cote-rivlin-said-among-obama-s-picks-for-deficit-commission.html; http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0210/33444.html; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ross-eisenbrey/future-of-social-security_b_482974.html

Imperfect healthcare bill compared to 1935 Social Security Act

In Legislation Today, New Deal Legislation on February 3, 2010 at 2:54 pm

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.
Thanks to Bruce Schulman for putting political compromise–particularly as it relates to major reform efforts–into perspective, and thanks to Henrik Hertzberg for bringing Schulman’s article to our attention.

‘Emphatically and truly, a government of the people’

In Legislation Today, New Deal Legislation, Political world on August 15, 2009 at 7:41 am

There was a fine opinion piece in the LA Times yesterday noting the anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act. The title was “President Barack Obama could learn from Franklin D. Roosevelt” and the author is Nancy J. Altman, who wrote the recently published history, The Battle for Social Security: From FDR’s Vision to Bush’s Gamble.

Altman compares the current health care debate with the fight over the Social Security Act and finds many similarities:

Then as now, opponents played the socialism card. In hearings before the Senate Finance Committee, a senator from Oklahoma accusingly asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, “Isn’t this socialism?” When Perkins emphatically answered no, the senator leaned forward and, with a conspiratorial whisper, pressed, “Isn’t this a teeny-weeny bit of socialism?”

Altman says that the difference is that FDR controlled the debate:

In a series of fireside chats and other broadcasts, the president anticipated arguments and responded before public opposition got out of control. “A few timid people, who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing,” he said in one talk. “Sometimes they will call it ‘fascism,’ sometimes ‘communism,’ sometimes ‘regimentation,’ sometimes ‘socialism.’ But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical. … I believe that what we are doing today is a necessary fulfillment of what Americans have always been doing — a fulfillment of old and tested American ideals. … We remain, as John Marshall said a century ago, ’emphatically and truly, a government of the people.’ “

You can read the entire piece here: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-altman14-2009aug14,0,6660527.story.

Frances would say, “Seize the moment — before it passes”

In Biography, Legislation Today, New Deal Legislation on May 6, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Much has been made of economist Paul Romer’s statement, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Yes, Congress passed the Economic Recovery Act, and yes, it was huge. But unfortunately, much of that money is now going to shore up states’ income-starved budgets — instead of stimulating the economy in new ways. And another huge amount has gone to shore up financial institutions, without a penny of that trickling down to regular people.

We’re not done, yet. I hope no one thinks that we are. We have decades of painful diminution to make up if we expect the middle class to return to its previous robustness, and that’s going to take massive investment. Of tax dollars.

If we don’t do it now, it may never happen. There may never be another chance, and the United States will continue its downward slide.

President Franklin Roosevelt and his Labor secretary, Frances Perkins, had a vision of the kind of place we could be living in today, the sort of standard of living we could be enjoying. It’s embodied in their “Economic Bill of Rights.” Their initial work — including social security, unemployment insurance, a minimum wage — was passed in 1935. But the rest of the list and most notably, national health care, was interrupted by the onslaught of World War II.

Yet, they never lost sight of those social justice goals.

January 11, 1944, FDR said this in an address:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

As World War II came to a close, FDR and Perkins knew it was time to again turn to their social justice agenda. Unfortunately, illness and death intervened. FDR died on April 12, 1945, before these goals could be enacted.

Frances Perkins, upon hearing of FDR's death on April 12, 1945. (Image: NARA photo, SSA website

Frances Perkins, upon hearing of FDR's death on April 12, 1945. (Image: NARA photo, SSA website

Imagine what America would be like if these rights were recognized and supported. Sixty-five years after the “Economic Bill of Rights” was announced, we have the opportunity to make them real. But only if we move fast. Who knows what fate lies in store for us?