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date: 25 July 2021

American Social Security Systemlocked

American Social Security Systemlocked

  • Eric R. Kingson, Eric R. KingsonSchool of Social Work, Syracuse University
  • Dana BellDana BellDana Bell, B.A., is the social media associate at Media Matters for America.
  •  and Sarah ShiveSarah ShiveSarah Shive, J.D., is the former Legislative Director for Social Security Works.


This entry examines why our nation’s Social Security system was built, what it does, and what must be done to maintain and improve this foundational system for current and future generations. After a discussion of the social insurance approach to economic security and its underlying principles and values, the evolution of America’s Social Security system is reviewed—beginning with the enactment of the Social Security Act of 1935, through its incremental development, to the changed politics of Social Security since the mid-1990s. Next, program benefits and financing are described and contemporary challenges and related policy options are identified, in terms of both the program’s projected shortfall and the public’s need for expanded retirement, disability, and survivorship protections. The entry concludes by noting that social workers have an important role to play in shaping Social Security’s future.


  • Administration and Management
  • Aging and Older Adults
  • Policy and Advocacy
  • Poverty

Updated in this version

Updated and revised to include new legislative and political developments that impact the Social Security system. Demographics and statistical data updated.

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