This article will focus on social issues, public policy, and the U.S. Social Security system in particular, exploring the role of social security in four parts: (1) an overview of the sociology of social issues and public policy; (2) a discussion of the principles and history of the U.S. Social Security system; (3) an analysis of the ways in which social scientists study the U.S. Social Security Insurance programs of Medicare and Medicaid; and (4) a description of the issues associated with defining social issues. Understanding the role and purpose of social security, or social welfare, in U.S. society is vital background for all those interested in the sociology of social issues and public policy.
Keywords Federal Government; Insurance; Public Policy; Social Insurance; Social Issues; Social Policy; Social Security; Social Security Act; Social Welfare; Sociology; Welfare State
Societies care for individuals in economic, social, and medical need in a variety of ways. For instance, social welfare systems may depend on extended family networks, reciprocal exchange relationships, or large-scale redistributive plans. Across societies, social welfare, also referred to as social security, generally follows trends in social and economic development (Erinosho, 1994). Social security, a fundamental right in many modern societies, refers to social protection programs enacted into law that provide individuals with some income protection during times of old age, disability, unemployment, poverty, or survivorship.
According to the International Social Security Association (ISSA), social security includes a wide range of benefits programs such as insurance, social assistance, and universal support. The International Social Security Association, founded in 1927, is an international organization committed to uniting national governments and social security administrators. The ISSA serves as a resource for member nations' efforts to build systems of social protection and support. By 2013, the ISSA had 338 member organizations in 159 countries ("Member Organizations," 2013). The ISSA's large-scale membership reflects the global importance of national social security systems worldwide.
This article will focus on social issues, public policy, and the U.S. Social Security system in particular. Understanding the role and purpose of social security, or social welfare, in society is vital background for all those interested in the sociology of social issues and public policy. This article explores the role of social security in four parts:
(1) An overview of the sociology of social issues and public policy;
(2) A discussion of the principles and history of the U.S. Social Security system;
(3) An analysis of the ways in which social scientists study the U.S. Social Security Insurance programs of Medicare and Medicaid; and
(4) A description of the issues associated with defining social issues.
The Sociology of Social Issues
The sociological study of public policy has a long history, beginning in the early twentieth century with sociologists committed to applied research and social justice. For instance, sociologists, and social scientists in general, studied early child labor policy as a means of publicizing and possibly ending abusive practices. Public policy refers to the basic policy or set of policies that serve as the foundation for public laws. Public policy is created to address a specific social issue. Social issues refer to problems identified and shared by a large portion of society. Public policy is often characterized as a social goal, enabling objective, or social solution. Public policy, requested by society and enacted by government, unites and mediates the relationship between society and government. Public policy is created within a specific historical context, socio-cultural context, and political system.
One particularly large body of public policy concerns the social and economic experience of citizens. Social policy, like all public policy, is an expression of values held by both citizens and government. Social policy is an expression of moral and economic values and viewpoints. In the United States, social policies, enacted through social welfare programs and serving as a social safety net, regulate and govern human behavior in areas such as general morality and quality of life.
Social policy is created, in part, to respond to pressing social needs such as poverty, social exclusion, unemployment, aging, children, mental illness, learning disabilities, and physical disabilities. Social policy is developed, enacted, and implemented to create self-sufficiency, equity, and social cohesion for all members of a society. Examples of significant social policy created in the United States during the twentieth century include the social security system, welfare, public housing, hunger and nutrition programs, childcare and child support, health care for people on low incomes, public education, and the social and health services of the Veterans' Administration (Spicker, 2006). All of these social policies, and social policies in general, reflect moral, political, and economic choices. Social policies tend to focus on maintenance of incomes, healthcare for sick, and basic services to those in crisis due to loss of income. In the United States, social policy is interconnected with economic policy (Amenta, et al., 2001).
Sociologists study the U.S. Social Security program, one of the largest social safety nets worldwide, as an entrance to topics such as family-government relations, aging, health, poverty, and the family. Sociologists study different kinds of social security benefits programs, analyze social security decision and policy-making processes, and explore the political forces shaping social security programs. Sociologists have paid particularly close attention to the ways in which changes in Social Security and Welfare programs in the 1990s transformed notions of the welfare state and family-government relations. Policy makers use sociological research on social security, and to varying degrees research on public policy in general, to inform their policy-making process and decisions. Sociological study of Social Security and social welfare programs in general has contributed to the reduction of social inequality (Sigg, 1986).
In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt, under the advisement of the Committee on Economic Security (CES), signed the Social Security Act and created a system of general welfare as well as a social insurance program for retired workers 65 years and older. President Roosevelt intended Social Security to provide protection for citizens and their families in case of job loss or old age poverty. Social Security was developed to protect the working population and their families against economic instability. The Social Security Act provided provisions for unemployment insurance, old-age assistance, aid to dependent children, and grants to the states to provide for specific types of medical care. The Social Security Act was later amended to add disability coverage and medical benefits. The Social Security Act established a Social Security Board (SSB) made up of three presidentially appointed members.
The Social Security Act protected the elderly in two main ways: Title I-Grants to States for Old-Age Assistance and Title II-Federal Old-Age Benefits. Title I-Grants to States for Old-Age Assistance supported state welfare programs for the aged. Title II-Federal Old-Age Benefits was the social insurance program that grew into the modern Social Security system. The new social insurance program was revolutionary to the degree that the program sought to address the long-range problem of economic security for the aged. In the Social Security system, workers contributed to their own future economic retirement benefit through regular payments into a joint retirement fund. Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes were collected in Social Security Trust Funds. President Roosevelt believed that as the contributory system, Title II, grew, the contributory system would eventually replace the temporary relief system of Title I grants.
The Social Security Act was amended numerous times during the...
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