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Social Security in Dorothea Lange's America – and Today

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Dorothea Lange, the great documentary photographer, traveled to Oregon in 1939 as part of her ongoing project to record the plight of the rural poor for the federal Resettlement Administration. Among the many stunning, often heartbreaking images she captured was the one reproduced here. The exact location isn’t known, but it shows an unemployed lumber worker and his wife in the shelter they were then living in. The tattoo on his arm is his Social Security number.

Social Security in Dorothea Lange's America – and Today

Eric Laursen - The People's Pension

Dorothea Lange, the great documentary photographer, traveled to Oregon in 1939 as part of her ongoing project to record the plight of the rural poor for the federal Resettlement Administration. Among the many stunning, often heartbreaking images she captured was the one reproduced here. The exact location isn’t known, but it shows an unemployed lumber worker and his wife in the shelter they were then living in. The tattoo on his arm is his Social Security number.

Before questioning the necessity of any institution, it’s usually a good idea to review the conditions that made that institution necessary to begin with – and ask ourselves how much has really changed. When Dorothea Lange began her historic project in 1935, the Social Security Act was just clearing Congress and heading to Roosevelt’s desk. In budgetary terms, Old Age Insurance, the section that evolved into today’s national retirement system, was a tiny portion of the whole. The checks that the elderly – 65% of whom were unemployed, millions of them in great distress – received right away under the Act were actually what we would call welfare – Title I, which awarded benefits based on need, not payroll tax contributions

The man and woman in Lange’s photo are not elderly. They would have to wait decades to receive what we now call “Social Security.” (Title I benefits phased out two to three decades later, once Old Age Insurance became generous enough to take its place.) But the new program meant a great deal to people who formerly expected to work until they dropped. It embodied a new social compact that moved provision for the aged out of the uncertain hands of families and local governments and allowed people to look forward to independence in old age.

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Social Security in Dorothea Lange's America – and Today | 1 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Social Security in Dorothea Lange's America – and Today
Authored by: lg48 on Wednesday, July 25 2012 @ 05:37 PM CDT
One of Dorothea Lange's photographs shows a man with his Social Security number tatooed on hgis arm --- that's how thrilled people were with the new program. And he's a cool-looking guy.

The photo is in my biography of Dorothea Lange.

Linda Gordon
Edited on Wednesday, July 25 2012 @ 05:47 PM CDT by Admin