Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, October 25, 2010

Professors discuss Social Security on 75th anniversary


Pamela Herd


John Witte

Professor Pamela Herd appeared on Wisconsin Public Television's "Here and Now" on August 13 in honor of Social Security's 75th anniversary on August 14.

Herd discussed the Wisconsin connection to the creation of Social Security models in the 1930s and the current financial and political state of the program. A transcript is available online. The sociologist has studied Social Security for more than a decade and is part of a network of researchers who are examining policy proposals to improve the program. Her work has been focused on inequalities that are built into the system and the groups that are vulnerable to those gaps.

She and professor John Witte spoke on Wisconsin Public Radio on August 12.

Witte, a political scientist, is the grandson of Edwin Witte, who chaired the Committee on Economic Security that created Social Security. He discussed his grandfather's involvement in drafting the legislation. He and Herd talked about Social Security's history, its current state, its effectiveness and possible reforms. They also responded to callers' comments and questions.

Edwin Witte, considered the "father of Social Security," spent five months in 1934 crafting the Social Security legislation, which was signed into law in 1935. An economics professor at the University of Wisconsin and former chief of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library, Witte drew on decades of Wisconsin research that showed how government could play a role in offering social insurance.

Herd also commented in the Kenosha News about the impact of Social Security, noting that poverty among older adults dropped from 50 percent to 60 percent in the late-1950s, to less than 10 percent in 2010. Social Security remains the only secure, stable share many seniors' retirements, now that market-driven investments have mostly replaced employer-paid, guaranteed pensions, Herd told the News.

Social Security: What's needed for the next 75 years?, September 14, 2010, Kenosha News

A shorter version of this article appeared in the fall 2010 La Follette Notes.