Bruell column: Scrooges, heroes, and Social Security


The holiday season is filled with heartwarming stories, like the miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge discovering the joy of being generous and the greedy Grinch’s heart growing bigger than he ever thought possible. I want to share another heartwarming story: a story of how Americans came to see that our government could also have a big, caring heart – the story of Social Security.

It starts with Mrs. Frances Perkins, president of a senior class at Mount Holyoke College in 1902. In her final semester, she visited a nearby factory as part of an economics course. She was so shocked by the conditions there that she decided to dedicate her life to fighting for workers’ rights. At the time, factory workers earned meager wages for doing hard work, often 12 hours a day; children as young as five worked in factories and sweatshops; safety regulations were essentially non-existent.

In 1911, Perkins witnessed a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory that killed 146 workers, mostly young women and girls. There were no fire escapes; stairwell and exit doors were kept locked to control the workers. After helplessly watching women jump to their deaths from windows up to 10 stories high, Perkins decided she needed to move from volunteer work to government work to make significant changes as quickly as possible.

She went on to serve in various positions in the New York state government and was instrumental in passing a law limiting the work week to “only” 54 hours.

In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) selected Perkins as his Secretary of Labor, making her the first woman ever to serve in a presidential cabinet. FDR supported the long list of labor reforms Perkins planned to fight for, including Social Security.

Her efforts were boosted by California physician Dr. Francis Townsend. After seeing two old women, dressed in once fine, now tattered clothes, rummage through his garbage cans for food, Townsend began advocating for a government-administered retirement pension system. He inspired people across the country to form thousands of clubs and press Congress to create such a system. In 1936, Roosevelt finally got the support he needed to pass the Social Security Act, largely designed by Perkins.

For 87 years, Social Security has provided millions of elderly and disabled Americans with food on the table and a roof over their heads. By 2021, 65 million Americans will receive Social Security benefits each month, having paid into the program throughout their working lives.

The majority of Republicans voted against Social Security in 1936, and Republicans have continuously tried to weaken it since its inception. Last month, South Dakota Senator John Thune, the second most senior Republican in the Senate, announced that with Republicans in control of the House in 2023, they plan to force cuts to Social Security. Thune repeated the weary refrain that cutting benefits is necessary to reduce the national deficit.

Ironically, it is the Republican approach to tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and corporations that widens the national deficit. Over the past 40 years, the deficit has increased during Republican presidencies and declined during Democratic leadership. The democratic approach to funding social programs — including vocational training for the unemployed, health care for the sick and Social Security, and health care for older and disabled Americans — increases consumer spending, stimulates the economy, and narrows the deficit.

If they were really concerned about reducing the deficit, Republicans would turn to the billions of dollars in tax breaks and government subsidies given to agricultural conglomerates, pharmaceutical giants and other ultra-wealthy companies. These handouts are much more than government spending on social programs, and they ensure that the wealthiest companies get richer at the expense of taxpayers.

Republicans are silent when it comes to corporate welfare because the same ultra-wealthy individuals who benefit from these tax breaks and subsidies are also writing huge checks to these politicians’ election campaigns. Like Scrooge and the Grinch at their worst, these Republican leaders prioritize money over people; personal gain over caring for others.

Proposals to steadily raise the age of eligibility for Social Security, privatize the program, and require congressional approval every five years are all Republican measures that would significantly reduce Social Security benefits or jeopardize survival. endanger social security. Medicare is similarly on their chopping block.

We pay into Social Security from our very first paycheck and count on those benefits to be there when we reach retirement age. Reducing or removing the guarantee of Social Security benefits is a callous move.

We can bring this story to a close by taking inspiration from heroes like Frances Perkins and demanding that our government put our interests above those of the ultra-rich and fully fund programs like Social Security to create communities where we can all thrive .

Debbie Bruell of Carbondale is president of the Garfield County Democrats and is a former member of the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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