Federalism and Social Security Essay
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Social Security is one of the strongest federal social welfare programs in the United States. Initiated as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, Social Security kick-started a revolution in federalism that characterized the twentieth century. Prior to New Deal reforms, federal powers were kept largely in check. Social Security was, and still is, challenged on constitutional grounds because of the way its parameters allow for a strong federal government. Social Security raises issues of federalism, in its use of federal resources, funding and power. Moreover, Social Security precludes states from opting out. This essay will analyze the overall effectiveness of Social Security, as determined by the overall goal of the policy in promoting social welfare. The thesis is that in spite of some weaknesses and presumptions, Social Security remains consistent with the constitutional framework of federalism.
When President Roosevelt backed Social Security, the policy was a direct response to the Great Depression. Yet Social Security remained an integral part of America's social welfare program, which was previously nonexistent. A staunch affirmation of states' rights had previously precluded American presidents from considering a move as radical as federalized social insurance. However, the new global realities and two world wars at the start of the millennium signaled a need for a stronger national identity as well as a more robust national government. Social Security met with some resistance, but it was generally received as a
necessary program for ensuring the future well being of the United States. Since 1937, the United States Supreme Court has consistently permitted federalism to permeate domestic policy. As Katz (1997) puts it, the courts have "allowed the national government to define the reach of its authority for itself," (p. 1).
Social Security can generally be considered effective in terms of its fulfilling its main duty of helping senior citizens, and in terms of its fulfilling the broader goal of promoting greater quality of life based on the fact that providing social insurance would reduce the burden of unemployed seniors on the economy overall. Because payroll contributions form the fiscal foundation of Social Security, it was relatively simple to frame Social Security not as a means by which to redistribute wealth, but a means for individual Americans to contribute to their own retirement fund. Thus, Social Security was effective in calming fears of America becoming socialist. Such fears have plagued the American psyche since even before Roosevelt was president and continue to haunt the nation today as it contemplates the validity of providing universal health care coverage to its citizens.
Moreover, Social Security can be considered effective because there are greater numbers of senior citizens in America than ever before. Roosevelt might not have foreseen this social phenomenon, but clearly it would be inconceivable to have a generation of seniors who…
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