The Committee on Economic Security (CES)

The President's Committee on Economic Security (CES) was formed in June 1934 and was given the task of devising "recommendations concerning proposals which in its judgment will promote greater economic security." In a message to Congress two weeks earlier President Roosevelt spelled-out what he expected the CES to achieve. ". . . I am looking for a sound means which I can recommend to provide at once security against several of the great disturbing factors in life--especially those which relate to unemployment and old age."

The Committee's work was extraordinary in its scope and remarkable for its brevity. In barely six months the CES designed the first comprehensive federal social insurance program in the nation's history. The CES intended to produce a complete system of social insurance, in the broadest possible meaning of the term. It was to include workers' compensation, health insurance, disability insurance, unemployment compensation, old-age benefits, survivors' benefits and various types of family and maternity benefits. This was to prove an illusive challenge. Not everything contemplated by the CES at the outset made it into their final proposal, for example, health insurance was deferred for later study. And not everything in the CES proposal made it into the final law, for example, the proposal for voluntary old-age annuities did not survive Congressional review. But the Report of the CES was the basic blueprint for what would come to be the Social Security Act.

The work of the CES was in many ways historic and in some ways heroic. One of the participants in this watershed undertaking, Thomas Eliot, in his posthumously published memoir, described his work with the CES in this way: "And what was it like, to be there? The best way to answer that question is to quote Wordsworth: 'Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, And to be young was very Heaven.' "

The Members

The Committee on Economic Security was composed of five top cabinet-level officials, under the leadership of Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. The CES assembled a small staff of experts borrowed from other federal agencies along with a handful of outside consultants.

The Reports

The basic text of the original CES report to the President was 50 printed pages, with an Appendix containing a list of Committee members and 19 additional tables of data. The full work of the CES was contained in 10 large volumes of reports and studies, which were never published. In 1937, two years after passage of the Social Security Act, the new Social Security Board published a summary of the unpublished volumes of the Committee's work. This book, "Social Security In America," published in 1937, contains a summary of some of the unpublished material.

Thus, there are three major groups of CES documents:

I. The Unpublished Studies (partial contents)
II. The Formal Report to the President and Associated Documents (full report available)
III. The 1937 Book, "Social Security in America" (full text available)