Q: Were all workers covered by Social Security when it began? Is everyone covered by Social Security protection now?
A: Not all workers had coverage under Social Security when it began. Although most do, not all workers have Social Security coverage for benefits today.
The Social Security Act of 1935 contains a long segment defining employment initially to be covered, and not covered, by Social Security. In what is by no means a complete list, employment not covered included agricultural labor, domestic service in a private home, and United States or State government employees. Excluding these and other exceptions, the Act defined covered employment as “service, of whatever nature, performed within the United States by an employee for his employer” so self-employed people were not originally covered either.
Over time, additional employment groups were added to those already protected by Social Security coverage. By year enacted, covered employment and self-employment provisions are here. Far from a complete list, some coverage expansions include:
1950: Regularly employed farm and domestic workers
1954: Farm self-employed. Professional self-employed except lawyers, dentists, physicians, and members of other medical groups
1954: State and local government employees (except fire fighters and police personnel) under a state or local government retirement system (coverage provided at state’s option)
1954: Members of the clergy and of religious orders not under a vow of poverty (elective)
1956: Members of the uniformed services on active duty or on active duty for training
1956: Remainder of professional self-employed except physicians
1965: Self-employed physicians
1967: Fire fighters under state and local government retirement system (under a majority favorable vote) and only if governor of state certifies Social Security protection
1983: Federal employees newly hired after December 31, 1983, including executive, legislative, and judicial branch employees. This includes members of Congress, the President, the Vice President, sitting Federal judges, and most executive-level political appointees of the federal government. Prior to 1984, most Federal government workers and officials were in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), which began 15 years before Social Security existed.
Not shown above, additional employment coverage changes have taken place since 1983. See them here.
Railroad employees comprise one large area of employment not covered by Social Security today. Legislation in 1934, 1935, and 1937 established a railroad retirement system separate from Social Security. The two systems are now closely coordinated with regard to coverage and benefits.
Today, most, but not all, government employees at the Federal, state and local level are covered by Social Security. Cities and school districts are examples of local government.
Some religious groups are not covered by Social Security.
And yes, as noted above, Congress is covered by Social Security. See Question 5, here.