Commemorating the 88th Anniversary of the Social Security Act and the Unemployment Insurance Program

Black and white photo: President Franklin Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act, flanked by supporters, including Secretary Frances Perkins.On August 14, 1935, the unemployment insurance program was created when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act. The law provided "protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age." The unemployment insurance program faced a tough road to become law. But Frances Perkins believed the program was essential to insulate the country from repeating the pain of the Great Depression, and she devoted herself to ensuring the program would become law. It was not the perfect program that some of its advocates, including Perkins, envisioned when they started the journey to create it, but it was a solid foundation upon which the program could grow.

In recognition of the 88th anniversary of the Social Security Act, we take a moment to reflect on the past and look to the future. The unemployment insurance program is known for being a safety net providing temporary income support to individuals who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. In addition, the program acts to stabilize the economy during times of decline and mass layoffs by helping individuals pay rent or mortgages and other basic bills while allowing them to maintain purchasing power.

Each day the staff members of the Employment and Training Administration go to work, alongside our state partners, to continue the effort to build upon the foundation laid 88 years ago. Whether providing technical assistance to Congress or states or interfacing with individuals seeking benefits, we work diligently, just as those who created the program worked more than 88 years ago, to hone and improve the program to help individuals get back to work while ensuring they can maintain the essentials of life when facing these transitional periods.

There is still work to be done. While the unemployment insurance program directly helped over 53 million workers and their families during the coronavirus pandemic, the impact of the pandemic brought into greater focus the needs to continue to safeguard the system from fraudsters and modernize aging unemployment insurance technology. The coronavirus pandemic further elevated the question of whether the program ought to cover more working individuals. All these challenges and more lay on the horizon of what the unemployment insurance program might become over the next 88 years and beyond. 

The Department of Labor is committed to strengthening our unemployment insurance system and protecting workers. On this 88th anniversary of the Social Security Act, may we all reflect on the original intentions of President Roosevelt, while looking to the future as we ensure the steadiness of the unemployment insurance program. Working in collaboration with each state, we can continue to provide an essential safety net to workers and economic stability to our communicates for decades to come.

Shawn P. Yancy is a supervisory unemployment insurance program specialist in the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.