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Altmeyer, Arthur J.

Abstract and Keywords

Arthur J. Altmeyer (1891–1972) was an administrator in Washington, DC from 1934 to 1953. He was a leader of social welfare policy and helped design and implement the Social Security Act of 1935.

Keywords: Social Security Act, social welfare, merit system, survivor's insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, workers' compensation

A recognized leader of social welfare policy, Arthur J. Altmeyer helped design and implement the most far-reaching social reform in American history, the Social Security Act of 1935. Born and educated in Wisconsin, Altmeyer taught briefly, became a school principal, and then took a position in Wisconsin state government. In 1931 he earned a PhD in economics at the University of Wisconsin, studying under Professor John R. Commons, a pioneer in the development of workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, health insurance, and other social legislation. As an administrator in Washington, DC (1934–1953), he helped put into practice the merit system for federal and state personnel programs (1939), survivor's insurance (1939), variable federal grants in relation to state per capita income (1939–1946), disability insurance (1939–1953), and federal financing of social work education (1939–1953). He also initiated and encouraged the movement for national health insurance from 1935 to 1953.

Altmeyer designed the social security program to be responsive to changes over time, making the Social Security Board one of the outstanding research units in the federal government. His appointment as social security commissioner was terminated by the Republicans in 1953. In The Formative Years of Social Security: A Chronicle of Social Security Legislation and Administration, 1934–1954 (1966), Altmeyer described the early years of the Social Security program.