Monday, January 28, 2013

US Government Check Number 00-000-001

Although I do not yet receive Social Security, I lament the passing very soon of an iconic part of our national culture – paper Social Security checks. 

The Social Security Administration will no longer issue paper checks after March 1, 2013. (There is special dispensation for recipients 91+ years old.) Most Social Security recipients have funds directly deposited into their bank accounts, but there are substantial numbers of older folks who like to receive a paper check in the mail.

Individuals can request payments online and access their account information online. The Social Security Administration is encouraging people to do their Social Security business – applying for payments, changing their address, etc. - online. Of course this means the government can reduce office hours (it has already done so) and saves oodles of money on office expenses and overtime.

The Social Security program has been in the headlines a lot lately. It is front and center in the war over budget deficits and the national debt. There is a strong and vocal lobby (I will not get controversial and say Republicans) working to ensure that individuals entitled to benefits receive as little as possible.

It is interesting at this time to note the January 30th anniversary of an auspicious event.

Seventy-three years ago - on January 30, 1940 - the first social security check was issued.

The lucky recipient was Ida May Fuller of Vermont. She collected check #00-000-001 for $22.54.

Miss Fuller, single with no children, worked all her adult life, most of it as a legal secretary. She paid into the Social Security system the last three years of her working career, contributing $24.75 into the Social Security system. Her total earnings for those three years were $2,475.

Ida May retired in November 1939 at the age of 65. She died on January 31, 1975 at the age of 100. From 1940 to 1975 she received a total of $22,888.92 in Social Security benefits.

Miss Fuller’s original check does not sound like much to those of us struggling to pay our bills in 2013. To put the cash in perspective here is a list of the cost of some common commodities in 1940:

Cost in 1940
.08 a loaf
.34 a gallon

The $22.54 check was not a lot of money, even in 1940. One 1940 dollar is approximately equivalent to the buying power of $16.44 in 2012. In today’s dollars Ida May’s check would be $370.56.

Most of us work hard for years and pay into a system that promises to help keep us out of poverty in our old age. It should not be relied upon as our only source of income post-employment, but it helps.

During the 20th century life expectancy in the United States increased over 30 years. The Social Security system was not created with the expectation people would live well into their 80s, 90s and beyond. But change is inevitable, we are adaptable, and smart people can tweak the system (if they want to) so that it can survive. It is our responsibility to do so.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

For information on the 2013 changes to the Social Security rules, click here.


  1. I did not know that bit of history. Thanks for the lesson. I will save the FDR quote.

  2. Great info. I wonder if those seniors who do not have access to computers can handle transactions via the phone? SS has saved my bacon.