By Gary Berg-Cross
Frances Perkins, featured in an earlier blog (2 Progressive Women), is in the news again this spring. Part of the reason is that her birthday is April 10. Another is that she just won the single-elimination online tourney of Episcopal saint of the year. She beat out St. Luke the Evangelist. But more importantly cut backs to her creation, Social Security, are in the news.
Perkins was a champion of labor & the working poor and the first woman to serve in the cabinet. Besides the Social Security Act she played a large role in the other parts of the safety net- minimum wage, unemployment insurance, the 40-hour work week, occupational safety protections. This was featured recently on MSNBC’s Last Word as “The most important liberal you’ve never heard of.”
As noted by Lawrence O'Donnell she remains unknown to many Americans, partly due to being in FDR's shadow. Yet her words defending and explaining the Social Security Act are worth noting as we hear of plans to cut SS back. And perhaps there is enough of her balanced vision remaining to do the right thing even in tough times.
While it is not anticipated as a complete remedy for the abnormal conditions confronting us at the present time, it is designed to afford protection for the individual against future major economic vicissitudes. It is a sound and reasonable plan and framed with due regard for the present state of economic recovery. It does not represent a complete solution of the problems of economic security, but it does represent a substantial, necessary beginning. It has been developed after careful and intelligent consideration of all the facts and all of the programs that have been suggested or applied anywhere…… This is truly legislation in the interest of the national welfare. We must recognize that if we are to maintain a healthy economy and thriving production, we need to maintain the standard of living of the lower income groups of our population who constitute ninety per cent of our purchasing power. The President's Committee on Economic Security, of which I had the honor to be chairman, in drawing up the plan, was convinced that its enactment into law would not only carry us a long way toward the goal of economic security for the individual, but also a long way toward the promotion and stabilization of mass purchasing power without which the present economic system cannot endure....
Speech on the Social Security Act (September 2, 1935). From Frances Perkins, Vital Speeches of the Day (Pelham, NY: City News Publishing Co., 1935), 1: 792-94.
From sites linked to in the blog.