Obama Again Says Social Security Originally for Widows and Orphans Only

You would think after the last time President Obama incorrectly said Social Security when it was originally created was exclusively for widows and orphans, someone in his administration would have corrected him so he wouldn't do it again.

Yet there he was at Tuesday's press conference making the same completely false assertion on national television (video follows with transcript and commentary):

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Most Americans, they're just trying to figure out how to -- how to go about their lives and -- and how can we make sure that our elected officials are looking out for us. And that means because it's a big, diverse country and people have a lot of complicated positions, it means that in order to get stuff done, we're going to compromise. This is why FDR when he started Social Security it only affected widows and orphans. You did not qualify. And yet now it is something that really helps a lot of people

Sadly, no. As NewsBusters reported in October when Obama said this to Comedy Central's Jon Stewart:

According to SSA.gov:

Although Social Security did not really arrive in America until 1935, there was one important precursor, that offered something we could recognize as a social security program, to one special segment of the American population. Following the Civil War, there were hundreds of thousands of widows and orphans, and hundreds of thousands of disabled veterans. In fact, immediately following the Civil War a much higher proportion of the population was disabled or survivors of deceased breadwinners than at any time in America's history. This led to the development of a generous pension program, with interesting similarities to later developments in Social Security. (The first national pension program for soldiers was actually passed in early 1776, prior even to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Throughout America's ante-bellum period pensions of limited types were paid to veterans of America's various wars. But it was with the creation of Civil War pensions that a full-fledged pension system developed in America for the first time.)

The Civil War Pension program began shortly after the start of the War, with the first legislation in 1862 providing for benefits linked to disabilities "incurred as a direct consequence of . . .military duty." Widows and orphans could receive pensions equal in amount to that which would have been payable to their deceased solider [sic] if he had been disabled. In 1890 the link with service-connected disability was broken, and any disabled Civil War veteran qualified for benefits. In 1906, old-age was made a sufficient qualification for benefits. So that by 1910, Civil War veterans and their survivors enjoyed a program of disability, survivors and old-age benefits similar in some ways to the later Social Security programs. By 1910, over 90% of the remaining Civil War veterans were receiving benefits under this program, although they constituted barely .6% of the total U.S. population of that era. Civil War pensions were also an asset that attracted young wives to elderly veterans whose pensions they could inherit as the widow of a war veteran. Indeed, there were still surviving widows of Civil War veterans receiving Civil War pensions as late as 1999!

As such, the CWP was a precursor to Social Security, but was not the beginning of the program.

Obama also misrepresented this pension plan, for benefits could go to disabled veterans and/or their associated widows and orphans. As such, the President even got the fundamentals of this program wrong.

As for Social Security, the first recipient of such a benefits check was "a retired Cleveland motorman named Ernest Ackerman, who retired one day after the Social Security program began. During his one day of participation in the program, a nickel was withheld from Mr. Ackerman's pay for Social Security, and, upon retiring, he received a lump-sum payment of 17 cents."

Safe to say Ackerman was neither a widow nor an orphan.

Indeed. And as John J. Pitney Jr. pointed out at National Review Tuesday, "Ida May Fuller, who in 1939 became the first beneficiary of recurring monthly Social Security payments, had worked as a legal secretary and was single."

It must be nice to be a Democrat and be able to say whatever you want, regardless of factual basis, with total impunity. Just imagine the media firestorm such a repeated error would create if Obama was a Republican.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.