The Michigan Alumnus 44
A Social Security expert, " Sen. Paul Douglas of Illinois once said, "is anyone who has Wilbur Cohen's telephone number."
The quip pays laconic tribute to a Michigan faculty member whose lifework touches every person in the United States.
Before coming to Michigan in 1956 as professor of public welfare administration, Cohen spent 22 years in the inner circles of Washington bureaucracy—acting as an adviser to Presidents Roose velt, Truman and Eisenhower, and representing the United States at several international conferences on Social Security.
Prof. Cohen was one of the original architects of the Social Security Act of 1935 and served as technical adviser to the chair man of the Social Security Board and the Commissioner for Social Security from 1935-1952.
He left a position as Director of Research and Statistics for the Social Security Administration to enter the academic world. Michi gan attracted him because of its proximity to Detroit ("It's a natu ral place to study employment and unemployment problems") and because he regarded it as "the best school in the country for work in the areas of social wel fare policy and care of the aged." He appreciates the opportunities for cross-fertilization of ideas and co-ordination of work with per sonnel in the University's School of Social Work, School of Public Health, School of Business Ad ministration, and Survey Research Center.
On the Ann Arbor campus, Prof. Cohen's job is to train graduate students in the School of So cial Work for positions in re search and administration of pub lic welfare programs. It is a field of enormous importance to the so cial weal, and to taxpayers. About one-tenth of the gross national product—an estimated $55,000, 000,000—is spent annually by business and government for pub lic welfare and medical care pro grams.
But Prof. Cohen's special inter est is in funneling information from his own research into the hands of legislators. He considers this "conduit between pure research academicians and politi cians" indispensable in the forma tion of sound welfare program policies.
Congressional groups call upon him frequently for consultation. In recent years he has returned to Washington to testify before the House Ways and Means Commit tee, the Senate Finance Commit tee, the Senate Labor and Pub lic Welfare Committee, and the Senate Sub-committee on Aging and the Aged. Next month he will appear before the Senate Sub-committee on Automation and Unemployment.
In the realm of politics he is on the 14-man "personal advisory council" of the Democratic presi dential candidate, Sen. John F. Kennedy.
Prof. Cohen, a gentle and gre garious person who attacks his work with missionary zeal, be lieves poverty will be abolished in America with the next 25 years. He advocates strengthening the contributory social insurance pro grams to reduce the need for re lief, and more university research funds to study ways to eliminate dependency. He says at least half the cost of direct county relief should be paid from federal tax sources to reduce the burden on local property taxes.
Born in Milwaukee in 1913, he began his career following gradu ation from the University of Wis consin in 1934. He is a member of England's Royal Society of Health, the American Public Wel fare Association, American Eco nomic Association, and the Amer ican Public Health Association.