NBC's Bob Dotson provides an analysis of the Social Security system fifty years after its inception, examining the program's achievements and shortcomings.
The 50th Anniversary of Social Security
TOM BROKAW, anchor:
Fifty years ago this week, President Franklin Roosevelt gathered press photographers and motion picture cameramen at the White House to record and publicize the signing of a bill he said had received too little attention. That legislation created the Social Security system.
President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: This Social Security measure gives at least some protection to thirty millions of our citizens…
BROKAW: Today Social Security has grown to cover 37 million Americans; it pays benefits amounting to about 200 billion dollars a year. And on Special Segment tonight we take a look at what Social Security has done for some older people in America, and what it is not able to do. As Bob Dotson tells us now, that monthly check can be a real comfort, a dividend, if you keep your health. If.
BOB DOTSON, reporting:
Joe Carter turned 102 last March, but he didn’t stand for much fuss, there was work to do.
Mr. JOE CARTER: A quiet lady.
DOTSON: Joe Carter is a farmer, he still putters about on an old A model John Deere tractor, the one he bought back in 1954, the year before farmers were brought under Social Security. Mr. Carter is not typical of course.
Mr. CARTER: I cook everything so good it tastes like something else.
DOTSON: But as a group those on Social Security are healthier, less frail and living longer than ever before. By the time today’s baby boomers reach Golden Pond they’d fill it. There could be 16 million Americans over 85.
Mr. CARTER: The fish always bite better on the other side. I don’t like associating with old people.
DOTSON: Joe prefers to spend his time with kids. His still come to play. Joe figures it keeps them off the street.
Mr. CARTER: I’m glad you run with it.
DOTSON: He and his four children collect 36 thousand dollars a year in Social Security benefits.
Today’s elderly have more buying power now then they did when they were young.
DOTSON: The poor are still with us of course, but they are considerably less poor thanks to Social Security. Poverty rates for the elderly have declined sharply in recent decades and are now lower than the rest of the population.
(Family singing “Happy Birthday)
DOTSON: So for most Americans Social Security has meant a better life. But Pearly Kurnatzi made a mistake: she got sick and hadn’t planned for it. Pearly turned 72 in the Olbine County Rest Home.
CHILD: I love you granny.
Ms. PEARLY KURNATZI: You do!
DOTSON: If you don’t plan, you either need an awful lot of money, or you need Medicaid, a more recent addition to Social Security. To qualify, Pearly’s family had to sell off practically everything she owns and set aside the proceeds for the nursing home. The states and counties, which administer this program, insist that folks do this. You must be virtually penniless before Medicaid will help pay your bills in a nursing home.
Pearly ended up like folks did before there was Social Security. Fifty years into the program we have still not come to grips with that problem. But for those who keep their health, Social Security provides a good harvest. Like Joe Carter, most older Americans now have money, and the seasons to enjoy it. Bob Dotson, NBC News, Winburn,Tennessee.