Social Security: Was Ida May Fuller part of a scam? MAY FULLER receiving her Social Security check in 1940. Photograph from Social Security Administration in public domain.Who was Ida May Fuller? She was the first beneficiary of recurring Social Security payments, and her story has become legendary among critics of the Social Security system.

Ida was born on September 6, 1874, on a farm in Vermont. She went to school in Rutland, Vermont, where Calvin Coolidge was one of her school mates. Ida led a quiet life as a schoolteacher, retiring as a legal secretary. She never married and had no children. Ida lived alone most of her life. She would be lost to history if it weren’t for the fact that she was the very first American to collect retirement benefits from Social Security. Her story was chronicled by the office of the historian at the Social Security Administration, which is the source of the facts presented here.

Ida spent most of her life working before Social Security existed. She filed for retirement claims in 1939, just about three years after she began making contributions. Her payroll tax contributions accumulated to a grand total of $24.75. (You can see a record of her contributions here.)

She started collecting benefits in January 1940 when she was 65 years old. Her first check, in the amount of $22.54, was number 00-000-001. Ida lived to 100. She collected benefits for over three decades. These amounted to a total of $22,888.92.

She paid $24.75. She got $22,888.92. This is why Ida is the poster child for critics of Social Security who argue that early participants got the benefits at the expense of late participants—just like a Ponzi scheme. Though a Ponzi scheme is entirely fraudulent, it is true that in this type of scheme the early investors make money and the late investors lose money.

Generalizing from the Ida story, critics say the same is happening now. Boomers, for example, will increasingly collect all the benefits to which they are entitled, but at the expense of younger Americans, who won’t. Presidential Rick Perry is one such critic, as we discussed yesterday. But others say the leap from Ida’s experience to the present is a logical fallacy.

What does Ida’s story say to you?

Does it contain a lesson about Social Security?

Or, is it just an interesting bit of trivia?

Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.

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