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Volume 10 Issue 2 - May 2009

For Your Information

Myths and misstatements of fact frequently circulate on the Internet, in email and on websites, and are repeated in endless loops of misinformation. One common set of such misinformation involves the history of the Social Security system.

One common form of the myth suggests a series of statements about the rules as originaly set forth by Franklin Roosevelt. As an example, one of the myths states that President Roosevelt promised that the program would be completely voluntary. As noted on the Social Security website, persons working in employment covered by Social Security are subject to the FICA payroll tax. Like all taxes, this has never been voluntary. From the first days of the program to the present, anyone working on a job covered by Social Security has been obligated to pay their payroll taxes.

In the early years of the program, however, only about half the jobs in the economy were covered by Social Security. Thus one could work in non-covered employment and not have to pay FICA taxes (and of course, one would not be eligible to collect a future Social Security benefit). In that indirect sense, participation in Social Security was voluntary. However, if a job was covered, or became covered by subsequent law, then if a person worked at that job, participation in Social Security was mandatory.

There have only been a handful of exceptions to this rule, generally involving persons working for state/local governments. Under certain conditions, employees of state/local governments have been able to voluntarily choose to have their employment covered or not covered. 

Visit the Social Security website for  more myths and their corrections: http://www.ssa.gov/history/InternetMyths.html.