Social insecurity

FDR’s grandson testifies against privatization

One of the most hotly debated public policy issues is the fate of Social Security, with President Bush advocating a plan to partially privatize the program. But James Roosevelt Jr., clinical instructor of public health and family medicine at the School of Medicine and the grandson of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, recently testified on Capitol Hill about the need to preserve his grandfather’s program as it was intended.

FDR signs the Social Security Act at the White House in 1935. © Bettman/Corbis

“Drastic changes which divert the payroll tax to privatization will almost certainly eliminate that guaranteed benefit,” Roosevelt told the Democratic Policy Committee, the policy and research arm of the Senate Democrats. “In fact, privatization threatens to bring about the collapse of the entire Social Security system.”

Roosevelt, former associate commissioner for retirement policy at the Social Security Administration, recalled the convictions that prompted FDR to introduce Social Security in 1935 as part of his New Deal reforms. “[My grandfather] and my grandmother, Eleanor Roosevelt, looked at America and found fear of want, particularly after retirement or loss of a parent,” he told the committee. According to Roosevelt, as recently as 1950, half of all senior citizens lived in poverty.

“As Social Security payments and benefits began to be available to all of our retirees and our disabled and our survivors, we’ve reduced that poverty to less than eight percent,” Roosevelt testified.