Informing policy. Inspiring change. Improving lives.
1200 18th Street NW, Suite 301
Washington, DC 20036
202 785-5100
iwpr@iwpr.org

Social Security on the Rocks: What’s at Stake for Younger Women

By Jennifer Clark

For many young working women, retirement security rests at the bottom of a lengthy priority list loaded with seemingly more pressing concerns. These include finding a satisfying, well-paying job, negotiating a raise and, for many, juggling family responsibilities with career advancement. Social Security, a government program associated with older Americans, might seem even more abstract to demographic whose retirement years are quite a few decades away. But as a panel of experts explained to an engaged crowd of young professional women recently, women face unique challenges in retirement and, for women of all ages, the future of Social Security is a shared concern.

The panel—hosted by the Women’s Information Network (WIN), a professional network of women in Washington, DC—featured young women experts and advocates who debunked common myths about Social Security and pointed out sobering facts about the program’s critical role in ensuring economic security in retirement. (View IWPR’s Flickr to see photos from the event)

Ensuring Your Retirement Security Starts Now

Lara Hinz of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) started with an overview of the unique challenges women face in retirement. Women live longer, earn less, and have less in savings or pensions. In addition, women are more likely to spend time out of the workforce, work in part-time jobs, and live alone in retirement, all of which increase women’s  risk of poverty in old age. Then Hinz delivered a wake-up call to the room of young working women: even women who live comfortably in their working years may be poor in retirement. Social Security then plays a vital role in retirement security for women. One in four unmarried women in retirement receive all of their income from Social Security benefits and, without access to Social Security, 58 percent of women over the age of 75 would be living below the poverty line.

Social Security is Your Insurance Plan for Retirement

With 90 percent of women making less than $55,000 per year, nonexistent savings is a real risk to retirement security. Social Security, as Kathryn Edwards from the Economic Policy Institute noted, helps mitigate the risks associated with income insecurity in retirement. But what exactly is Social Security? “Saying that Social Security is money older Americans receive from the government is like saying the Pentagon is the largest office building in the world. It’s not wrong, it’s just not the full picture,” explained Edwards, who is writing  a forthcoming EPI textbook for young Americans on Social Security. Social Security is an insurance program, which helps protect workers and their families from the risks—old age, disability, or death—associated with not being able to work.

For young Americans, Social Security is not just money that older Americans receive from the government, Edwards stressed, “this is your insurance that you are already paying into.”

Especially Vital to Women of Color

While women in general face unique challenges in retirement, Youngmin Yi from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research discussed how women of color face challenges that are particularly intense, making Social Security even more important to this demographic. Black women in particular experience higher rates of disability and are more likely than other women to live alone in old age. Seventeen percent of black women between the ages of 65 and 74 are currently living in poverty; without Social Security, 50 percent of black women in this age range would be living in poverty. Latinas also face more pronounced challenges in retirement, as they are more likely to work in low-wage jobs without pensions and are most likely to live longer than other groups of women. Social Security is the most common source of income for older Latinas, further underscoring the critical value of Social Security.

Countering Political Rhetoric with Informed Voters

If Social Security is a vital and efficient, insurance program, then why is it in crisis? Well, it’s not. It’s actually running a surplus—a big one—at $2.6 trillion. Melissa Byrne from the Strengthen Social Security Campaign pointed to current policy proposals that could potentially threaten Social Security’s long-term solvency and to how young women can join the effort to defend the program from future cuts. Far from strengthening Social Security, Byrne noted, efforts at means testing the program—reducing or eliminating benefits for those defined as “affluent”— would undermine Social Security as a universal insurance program, turning the system into a government welfare program. To many people, regardless of political leanings, raising the retirement age seems like a reasonable compromise to ensure Social Security’s long-term solvency. However, raising the full retirement age to 69 is a 13 percent benefit cut, a fact which rarely shows up in talking points (except these).

To ensure that these ideas do not become policy, Byrne suggested that young women stay informed, and most importantly, vote.

Resources for Staying Informed

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

One thought on “Social Security on the Rocks: What’s at Stake for Younger Women

  1. 1)Do you think you’ll have enough money for a cboamrtfole retirement?Does not apply. I love my career as an artist and hope to die with the tools of the trade in my hands.2) Do you plan on receiving the social security benefits that have been promised to you?Sure, I’m a boomer. I plan to tap in at 62. But my intent is to pass it along every month to someone in one of the following generations. There’s some delicious irony there.3) What % of your income do you save today for retirement?When I work my savings rate is usually around 40-50%. But let me say that life so far has been like a long summer vacation. I have taken as much as a year to enjoy myself and recharge my batteries several times in my adult life. I rarely reject an offer to go river rafting or fishing (which are very low cost and high enjoyment activities). On the financial side, I sold my suburban home four years ago and rent a small farm now. The cash is well invested (I hope) since it has more than doubled in that time. To buy in my locale would cost me at least triple what I now pay in rent. 4) Where would you like to retire?I’m an avid, no, really I’m a compulsive food gardener and tree grower. Soil, water, four real seasons and open spaces blow my skirt up. I’ll stay in the USA and take my chances with the coming times since my tribe is here. 5) How old are you, and what age do you plan on retiring?The answer to part one is that I’m just about to turn 61. For part B see the above.A little rambling: The real goal is to have a good life. Keep it simple and full of heart. Be joyful doing vigorous work. Eat healthy food not poisonous crap. My key to having enough money has been to tighten down the outflow spigot rather than exert myself in the mind numbing quest for big bucks. Oh yeah, exchange goods and services with others because the return is much greater (though a bit difficult to quantify). You have all seen pictures of some ancient and very wrinkled peasant in bib overalls holding a bunch of grapes with a twinkle in his eye and a wise smile on his face. This is not a bad goal. Finally, it is better to die deservedly well loved than rich.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Go to Home Page