By Kathie Piccagli, OWL National Board Member
I am coming increasingly to see the attack on Social Security as an attack on women. Instead of recognizing the financial restrictions women have faced and valuing the countless unpaid contributions to society made by women, the Debt Reduction Commission is expected to try to cut back on the program that enables women, particularly, to survive.
Women reach Social Security age with fewer resources than men. There are a number of reasons this is true. First, they make less than men for comparable work . It is estimated that over a lifetime, the wage disparity adds up to approximately $400,000. Second, they have often taken time out of the workforce to raise families and to care for parents and other relatives. Women are usually the ones that provide unpaid supports for families, and this time out of the workforce has consequences in terms of pay, advancement, and even the kinds of jobs they can get. Third, they more frequently than men do not have pensions, because of the positions they’re in, in working years.
So women enter “retirement” with fewer resources. As OWL says, “you can’t save what you didn’t earn”. Women have fewer other resources, and, thus, are more dependent on Social Security. The three-legged stool concept of retirement income (Social Security, pensions, savings.) is particularly unrealistic for women. As they age (and women live longer than men), meager resources, such as savings, are depleted. At 62, women are 57% of social security beneficiaries. By 85, they make up 69% of beneficiaries.
Even though women have fewer other resources, they receive less social security than men. On average, women get $2000 less annually than men. The average annual payout for men is somewhere around $13,500; the average payout for women is around $11,500. Women have fewer other financial supports, and lower social security payments at the same time.
It is imperative for women that social security be continued and strengthened. Women over 65 depend on social security for almost half their income. Over 85, that figure increases substantially. Half of women recipients are kept out of poverty by social security.
We MUST keep hammering this point home. Women need social security. The social security program may not compensate for years of unequal pay or years out of the workforce for caregiving, but it enables most women to survive. Social Security is some small recognition of the value women have contributed. A just society needs to look more at how the system can be strengthened in light of women’s circumstances. Women need progress, not regression.
(I got to talk about some of these issues last week, on the radio: HYPERLINK http://kpfa.org/archive/id/63157 - about 10 minutes into the program. Check it out!)