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Social Security: A Lifeline for Latinas

by Mallory Mpare

With talks about the national debt and deficit dominating policy discussions, much attention has been paid to the fabled contributions Social Security makes to the national debt.  As has been said before (but clearly bears repeating), Social Security does not contribute to the national deficit. In fact, poll after poll shows that the American people understand that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit.  Yet it seems that with Social Security still on the table for cuts, this message is not getting through to those who need to hear it most.

How can we make this message resonate? It is important to discuss policy and its wider implications for the economy at large, but we cannot forget that policy is always tied to people. Instead of focusing on the dollars and cents of Social Security maybe we should talk about how changes to the program affect individuals. After all, how long can political leaders continue to ignore the needs of their constituents?

Social Security was created to ensure that the elderly could retire from the workforce in dignity, without fear that after a lifetime of work they might spend their old age in poverty. Today, Social Security is a crucial source of income for many Americans.  An IWPR report details how, even in the midst of efforts to scale back benefits, people are becoming increasingly reliant on Social Security as a source of income. Though men’s reliance has increased more than women’s, the degree ofreliance is greater for women and people of color who tend to have fewer alternative sources of income.

To supplement its report, IWPR released a fact sheet which details the importance of Social Security to Latinas in the United States. Yes, Social Security is designed to redistribute income to low earners and yes, it currently has policies that disproportionately benefit women.

However, it is impossible to fully compensate for a lifetime of gender inequality in wages.

Compound this with labor market discrimination based on race and ethnicity and many Latinas are bound to encounter economic insecurity in old age.  Additionally, Latinas have a higher life expectancy—89 years compared with 85 years for women of all races and ethnicities combined—and tend to be concentrated in low-wage jobs without pensions.

Latinas in the United States account for at least 1.7 million of the total 52.5 million Social Security beneficiaries. After age 64, few Latinas receive income from sources other than Social Security. In fact, only 27 percent of Latinas aged 64–74 report any income from assets and this source of income becomes even scarcer with age (only 21 percent of  those 75 years of age and older report having any income from assets). Yet asset income is the most common source of additional income for older Latinas, after Social Security.

Although many older Latinas rely on Social Security, the benefits they receive from the program are relatively modest. Among Americans aged 75 and older, women as a whole receive average annual benefits of $11,585.  But Latinas of the same age range receive on average just $8,975 in Social Security benefits.  Still, these modest benefits constitute by far the largest share of income for older Latinas. Eighty percent of Latinas aged 75 and older rely on Social Security for at least half of their income and more than half rely on Social Security for all their income.

In other words, for older Latinas, Social Security is not merely a safety net; it’s a lifeline.

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Top 5 Recent IWPR Findings

By Jennifer Clark

When IWPR posted a “Top 5” list of our most revealing research findings in December, we were so encouraged by the level of interest our readers showed in the post, that we decided to turn it into a regular roundup. Although intending to compile another “Top 5” list, the first four months of 2011 were so action-packed that we couldn’t limit ourselves to just five. From Social Security to employment discrimination, here are the top IWPR findings from 2011 (so far):

1.       Without access to Social Security, 58 percent of women and 48 percent of men above the age of 75 would be living below the poverty line.  If you watch cable news, read reputable newspapers, or even tune in to late night television, you would get the impression that the Social Security system, which helped keep 14 million Americans over the age of 65 out of poverty in 2009, is broken. Social Security does not contribute to the deficit and is forbidden by law to borrow money to pay for benefits.  In fact, Social Security is actually running a surplus—a big one—at $2.6 trillion, an amount that is projected to increase to $4.2 trillion by 2025.

2.       Although many groups advocate for immigrant rights at the local, state, or national levels, very few advocate specifically for the rights of immigrant women. A new IWPR report, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change, on the challenges facing Latina immigrants in the United States, explores the specific challenges faced by immigrant women—higher poverty rates than their male counterparts and greater risk of sexual, domestic, and workplace violence—and spotlights the organizations that are trying to help.

3.       The gender wage gap has narrowed only 13 percentage points in the last 55 years. With the ratio of women’s to men’s earnings stagnating at 77 percent in recent years, IWPR projected that, if current trends continue, the gender wage gap will finally close in 2056—45 years from now. In terms of how the gender wage gap breaks down by occupation, IWPR also found that women earn less than men in 107 out of 111 occupational categories, including female-dominated professions like teaching and nursing.

4.       Women’s career and life choices do not completely explain  the gender wage gap. IWPR’s new report, Ending Sex and Race Discrimination in the Workplace: Legal Interventions That Push the Envelope—a review of over 500 sex and race discrimination settlements –offers distressing evidence of the factors that keep women’s median earnings lower than men and keep women out of better paid jobs. These include discrimination in hiring, sexual harassment of women trying to work in male-dominated jobs, preventing women from getting the training that is required for promotion (or only requiring that training of women), and paying women less for the same work than men. The report finds that ensuring transparency in hiring, compensation, and promotion decisions is the most effective means for addressing discrimination.

5.       On-campus child care centers meet only five percent of the child care needs of student parents. IWPR’s report, Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents, explores the challenges facing 3.9 million student-parents, 57 percent of whom are also low-income adults, enrolled in colleges across the U.S. Costly off-campus care centers—in many states the cost exceeds median income—are unrealistic for many, leaving some student parents devoting up to ing 70 hours per  week to jobs and caregiving, leaving little time for classes or studying. Postsecondary education provides a path to firmer economic stability for low-income families, but without child care on campus, the path often seems more like an uphill climb.

6.       Both businesses and employees in San Francisco are generally in support of paid sick days, as the nation’s first paid sick days legislation sees benefits four years after passage. San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance (PSLO) went into effect in 2007.  Four years later, IWPR analyzed the effects of the ordinance in the new report, San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance: Outcomes for Employers and Employees, which surveyed over 700 employers and nearly 1,200 employees.  Despite claims from opposing groups that this kind of legislation is bad for small businesses, IWPR’s survey found that two-thirds of employers in San Francisco support the law, including over 60 percent of employers in the hotel and food service industry.

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

More Research Needed to Help Prevent Street Harassment

Woman walking down streetBy Holly Kearl

This April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Primary prevention for sexual violence involves education and the creation of safe environments, including on the streets of our cities, towns, and neighborhoods. One important issue that seldom receives attention from researchers or the media is the street harassment that happens to women walking down sidewalks, taking public transportation, and in other public places. Guest blogger Holly Kearl, author and Program Manager with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), outlines the impact of street harassment on women, and calls for additional measures to effectively address and prevent this type of activity.

When it comes to creating policies that address the sexual harassment that happens in public places between strangers, termed street harassment, the phrase that comes to mind is catch-22. Let me explain.

Four years ago, I wrote my master’s thesis at George Washington University on street harassment. I examined how women were using websites to address and deal with street harassment in lieu of legal regulations or useful policies. While conducting a literature review, I was shocked to learn that few street harassment studies exist, few academic articles had been written on the topic, and almost no books had been published.

These discoveries led me to write my own book about street harassment, published last year by Praeger. As part of the book research, I informally surveyed more than 900 people from 23 countries and 45 U.S. states. Ninety-nine percent of the women had experienced street harassment, and not just whistling or honking. More than 80 percent had been the target of sexually explicit comments and vulgar gestures, 75 percent had been followed, over half had been groped, more than one-third had faced public masturbation, and one-fourth had been assaulted by a male stranger.

In the United States, there have only been two non-campus-based studies about street harassment, both of which showed it was the experience of 100 percent of the women and the types of harassment women experienced were similar to my findings. Both studies were conducted in the 1990s, one in Indianapolis and the other in the California Bay Area.

The statistics from my study, even though they are informal, were shocking. What shocked me even more was realizing how many women had changed their lives because of actual or feared street harassment. Most of my survey respondents reported “on guard” behaviors while in public on at least a monthly basis, including constantly assessing their surroundings, avoiding making eye contact, and pretending to talk on a cell phone.

The next most common type of behavior was that which restricted their access to public spaces, such as taking alternate routes because of harassers, avoiding being in public alone, and paying for a gym membership rather than exercising outside.

Most alarming, a percentage of women had made significant life decisions because of harassment. Around 20 percent had moved to a new neighborhood because of harassers in the area and almost 10 percent had changed jobs because of harassers along the commute.

When I discovered these results, it became clear to me that street harassment has a negative economic impact on women and it impedes women’s equality.

The economic impact is even clearer when you read women’s stories on sites like my blog Stop Street Harassment and the 25 Hollaback websites. On these sites, women share how they pay for taxis instead of taking public transportation after dark, drive three blocks instead of walking, skip evening networking events, and avoid or drop out of night classes.

After four years of learning, writing, and speaking about this issue, I know there will never be gender equality until street harassment ends. I also understand that policymakers are hard-pressed to make significant changes without data that illustrates a problem and without research suggesting policies that could improve the problem.

This is where we reach the catch-22.

To truly address street harassment, we need citywide, statewide, and/or nationwide studies to give us concrete data about its prevalence, the impact it has on women’s lives, and why it happens (and thus what we can do to prevent it). Then policies can follow.

These important studies require funding to be conducted well (I did my informal survey online, with a shoestring budget). Funders often hesitate to put money behind an initiative that has not been proven to be a problem. Street harassment hasn’t been proven to be a problem because there are so few studies. There are so few studies because there is no funding…and back and forth and back and forth.

This is unacceptable. In the United States, we take pride in our country being the land of the free, but that’s not true for women. Girls routinely face harassment on their way to school and when they are out with friends, and women routinely face harassment on their way to work or while running errands – particularly if they walk or take public transportation. They should not be penalized because of this catch-22.

It’s time to break the cycle. It’s time for a smart funder to realize that the stories, informal data, and studies from the 1990s support the need  for new, comprehensive studies that can inform new policies—and help make our streets safe and free for girls and women, as well as for boys and men.

 

Holly Kearl is the American Association of University Women Program Manager and the author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women (Praeger Publishers, 2010). Holly has written articles about street harassment for publications including the Guardian, Forbes.com, Huffington Post, and Ms. Magazine Blog.

IWPR Releases New Findings on Increasing Importance of Social Security

A January 27 event at the National Press Club brought together experts on Social Security and the economy to discuss findings.

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

Social Security is vital to women and minorities. For many, this is not new knowledge. More surprising are findings from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showing that rates of reliance on Social Security increased dramatically between 1999 and 2009—particularly among men. The findings were released on January 27 in our latest report, Social Security Especially Vital to Women and People of Color, Men Increasingly Reliant, authored by Heidi Hartmann, Jeff Hayes, and Robert Drago.

At the National Press Club, IWPR President Heidi Hartmann presented IWPR’s new findings at a release event that coincided with the kick-off of the annual conference of the prestigious National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI).

The report finds that, between 1999 and 2009, the number of men aged 65 and older relying on Social Security for at least 80 percent of their incomes increased by 48 percent (from 3.8 million to 5.7 million) to equal more than a third of all men aged 65 and older in 2009. The increase for comparable women was 26 percent (from 8.2 million to 10.3 million) to equal half of older women in 2009.

Dr. Hartmann, lead author of the report, was joined by other experts who shared their views on the report’s findings—Dr. Gary Burtless, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies, Brookings Institution; Virginia Reno, Vice President for Income Security,  NASI; and, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, President and CEO, Global Policy Solutions.  Dr. Robert Drago, IWPR’s Director of Research, moderated the panel.  All the presentations are available to be viewed on YouTube.

The main theme of the discussion was the need for preserving the Social Security system, because of the impact that cuts would have for many who depend on it. Speakers pointed to how, particularly in the aftermath of the recent recession, Social Security is increasingly essential to keep many out of poverty. “For the majority of the aging population, the Social Security safety net is getting the job done,” said Virginia Reno.

“This [report] is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of how many older people, and particularly different population groups among the aged, depend on Social Security,” said Dr. Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institute. “It’s the most important source for the great majority of the elderly. Cutting it would have serious repercussions for the most vulnerable of the aged.”

IWPR’s report shows that, in 2009, Social Security helped more than 14 million Americans aged 65 and older stay above the poverty line. Without access to Social Security, 58 percent of women and 48 percent of men above the age of 75 would be living below the poverty line.

Dr. Burtless pointed to the fact that the social safety net continues to “get the job done” for the majority of the nation’s aged population, including those in the lowest income distribution brackets. As a result, many have been spared from the worst impact of the recent recession.

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore of Global Policy Solutions put forth the significance of the findings to communities of color, “a population that was already suffering from disparities in assets and income prior to the financial crisis.” She pointed to the asset gap outlined in the report, with white women in particular having more income from assets than black or Hispanic women.

IWPR’s research found that, among women aged 62-64, white women report an average of $3,471 in income from assets compared with $1,738 for black women and $1,417 for Hispanic women. Among women aged 75 and older, white women report $3,278 in income from assets, compared with $715 for black women and $549 for Hispanic women, on average.

“I would argue that the fact that we’ve seen increases in reliance in Social Security over the past 10 years is going to be a harbinger of the future as well,” said Dr. Rockeymoore. “Overall we know that this is going to have significance—severe significance—for populations of color in the future, not only today’s retirees.”

Additional findings from the report support the continued need for Social Security among minorities and women, who benefit disproportionately from Social Security because the program is designed to pay proportionally higher benefits to lower earning workers. Women also benefit from the program’s family benefits.

The study is based on IWPR analysis of data from the 1978 to 2010 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements collected jointly by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Please read the report in full on IWPR’s website.

To follow the conversation on Social Security, follow IWPR on Twitter. Join the conversation by using the hashtags #Social Security and #womenspolicy.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

IWPR’s Top Five Findings of 2010

by Jennifer Clark

1.  The recent recession was not predominantly a “mancession.”

While men represented the majority of job losses during the recession, IWPR’s research shows that single mothers were almost twice as likely as married men to be unemployed.  Another IWPR briefing paper examines how the “Great Recession” was an equal opportunity disemployer, doubling nearly every demographic group’s unemployment rate. In many families, women increasingly became the primary breadwinner, but they still spent more time in unpaid household labor than men. This imbalance of effort at home persists whether men are employed or not.

2. Only 12 percent of single mothers in poverty receive cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

In the briefing paper, “Women in Poverty During the Great Recession,” IWPR shows that the numbers of single mothers in poverty receiving TANF assistance varies in the states. In Louisiana, only four percent of single mothers in poverty have TANF assistance. While in Washington, DC, the jurisdiction where impoverished mothers have the highest enrollment, still only 40 percent of single mothers receive any cash assistance through TANF.

3. Community colleges would need to increase the supply of child care on campus at least 10-fold to meet the current needs of students.

More than one-quarter of the students at community colleges have children, yet the supply of child care on campus does not meet the current needs of students. For many student parents, community college is an avenue to better jobs that allow them to support their families. As part of IWPR’s current project on post-secondary education, IWPR released a fact sheet in June, which noted that the proportion of community colleges providing on-campus care for the children of students decreased between 2001 and 2008, despite the great need.

4.  Young women are now less likely to work in the same jobs as men.

Reversing the progress made by earlier cohorts of young women entering the labor market, younger women today are now less likely to work in traditionally male and integrated occupations, which tend to pay better than traditionally female occupations. When told that traditionally male occupations pay more, women receiving workforce training said they would choose the higher paying job. In addition, women earn less than men in all but four of 108 occupational categories including in occupations-such as nursing and teaching-where women represent the majority of workers.

5. The majority of all likely voters support paid sick days.

IWPR’s new study shows that, while 69 percent of likely voters-including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents-endorse laws to provide paid sick days, two-fifths of all private sector workers lack this benefit. IWPR’s research also shows preventing workplace contagion of communicable diseases-such as influenza or H1N1-by providing paid sick days will save employers and the US economy millions of dollars.

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

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