Evelyn Sekula's widowed grandmother struggled to survive during the Depression. Like millions of other elderly people, she had no pension and no savings.
"She had no income at all except for what my father gave her," said Sekula, 90, who lives at the Atria El Camino Gardens senior residence in Carmichael. "She was always looking for a way to make money. My father probably gave her $10 a month."
Today's older adults were children and teenagers when President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the face of aging on Aug. 14, 1935, when he signed the Social Security Act into law.
They remember the difficult years when old age took place in a bleak, Dickensian landscape of need dotted with poor houses for those whose families couldn't support them. And they remember the difference that Social Security made in ordinary people's lives.
They also remember their parents' fears that Social Security amounted to socialism. Yet on the edge of the program's 75th anniversary, most of them can't imagine retirement without the small cushion of funds and dignity that Social Security provides.
As California Budget Project executive director Jean Ross says, Social Security lifted the elderly out of poverty – and as the most important source of income for most older Americans, it continues to do so.
But the recession has had a negative impact on Social Security, according to a trustees' report released Thursday: Reduced payroll taxes have resulted in Social Security's first projected annual deficit since 1983. Despite that, both the trustees and the Congressional Budget Office say that the program will remain solvent until 2037.
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