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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.

Telling the Real Story on Social Security

This blog is also published on IWPR’s Social Security Media Watch Project.

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

In political debates and media reports, the dialog on Social Security has recently focused on budget numbers. The program is often mistakenly tied to the deficit despite the fact that by law it cannot borrow money to pay for benefits and thus cannot contribute to the deficit. But the bigger story is being missed: the fact that Social Security directly affects the lives of many Americans including seniors, the disabled, and widows and children who are eligible for survivor benefits.

The program has a long history, and across its nearly eight decades it has expanded to include more people under its protective umbrella.  Fundamentally, once a person becomes eligible as a permanently disabled worker, retiree, or spouse or widow of a retiree, benefits last as long as one lives and are adjusted for inflation each year. While the benefits of Social Security are especially important to women because of their lower lifetime earnings and longer lives, men are becoming increasingly reliant due to shifts in retirement saving patterns and the recent severe recession. Many children, whose parents have died or become disabled, rely on Social Security insurance benefits, as do disabled children, including the adult disabled children, of working parents or grandparents who worked.

Many organizations have begun to tell this important part of the Social Security story.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) recently began collecting input about how people had been affected by Social Security on its Facebook page—you too can tell your story here. By completing the sentence “Because of Social Security, I can…” respondents have offered insight into their specific needs that the program is currently meeting. “Because of Social Security, I am able to get the medical attention that I need, eat, buy toiletries, pay my electric bill as I am disabled,” said one commenter.

One perhaps somewhat harsh reality is that Social Security benefits, which are very modest (the typical woman 65 or older receives $10,915 annually),  give enough support to lift many Americans out of poverty—more than 14 million Americans aged 65 and older would be poor without Social Security benefits. Another commenter on NWLC’s Facebook page said that she would be homeless without access to Social Security insurance benefits.

The program also offers support to those with disabilities or supporting disabled individuals. “I am able to take care of my autistic grandson who would be in foster care or a group home without me,” said one commenter on NWLC’s Facebook page.

The Older Women’s League (OWL) collected similar narratives for a video that shows the range of women who receive benefits from Social Security.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the program in 2010, the Frances Perkins Center started the Social Security Stories Project:  “an opportunity to join thousands of Americans in showing that you are part of how Social Security has transformed our country, our economy and our people – young and old.”

The center is named for Frances Perkins who observed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911 and went on to become Secretary of Labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. Perkins helped establish the Social Security program, which FDR called “a cornerstone of his administration.”

Visitors to the website can submit their stories directly to the site.  See them all on their webpage and watch the video.

We hope that by continuing to spread these stories, the focus can shift to the dire impact that cuts to the program would have on many Americans and their families.  Besides, we are a wealthy country that can well afford to take care of our elderly and disabled and their families.

Other related videos:

Don’t Make Us Work ‘Til We Die

A new video from Social Security Works looks at the alternate reality of older workers who would be  unable to retire, and would have to keep on waiting tables, drilling construction sites, and working other strenuous jobs if the Social Security retirement age were raised further.

Scrap the Cap

Produced this year by OWL National, an animated video starring fictional versions of Whoopi Goldberg and Glenn Beck debating the importance of the Social Security program.

Social Security: Real Stories

Produced by the Social Security Administration’s Open Government Initiative, a video collection of testimonials from Americans about how Social Security has been a source of support.

President Obama’s Weekly Address: Honoring Social Security, Not Privatizing It 

In his address on August 13, 2010, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Social Security  President Obama told Americans that he would “honor” Social Security—not privatize it.

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

Women Thrown Under the Bus (Again)

by Heidi Hartmann

Friday evening (4/8/2011) while the Democrats and Republicans were negotiating their budget deal for the remainder of FY 2011, as the news began to trickle out, we learned that once more, women are being thrown under the bus.

True, the Republican negotiator, John Boehner, Speaker of the House, wanted more anti-woman stuff he didn’t get—a ban on Planned Parenthood receiving any women’s health services funds from Title X.  But because of President Obama’s willingness to compromise (as reported by  The Washington Post), Boehner did win a prohibition on the use of DC taxpayers’ funds to provide abortions to low-income women in DC—in other words, thanks to Boehner and Obama, we DC residents can no longer use our own, locally-generated tax dollars to fund abortions for poor women.  Women thrown under the bus by our president!

Sunday morning we awoke to hear on the news interview shows that President Obama will propose ways to rein in the federal debt, both by raising taxes and reducing costs in programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security in a major speech on Wednesday (4/13/11).  While raising taxes is potentially good news for women, who rely on government programs more than men do, and so will be helped by added revenues, reducing costs in programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security is almost certainly disastrous news for women.  In other words on Wednesday when President Obama unveils his long term plan for reducing the US debt, he will almost certainly throw women under the bus again!

Women are 61 percent of adult Medicaid recipients, 57 percent of the 65 and older Medicare recipients, and 57 percent of the 65 and older Social Security recipients. Women also rely on Social Security more than men do:  as of 2009, 50 percent of women aged 65 and older and 35 percent of men of the same age range relied on Social Security for 80 percent or more of their income.

With so many more people more reliant on Social Security for retirement income than ever before (given the fall in pension fund balances, savings, and home equity), cutting Social Security benefits in any way (including by raising the retirement age) should be a non-starter for any serious policymaker, whether Democratic or Republican, especially because the American public has responded in survey after survey that they’d rather see Social Security taxes raised than Social Security benefits cut.

Medicare is already subject to very significant cost-savings under the health care reform act passed last year and the ability of the Affordable Care Act to deliver on its promise of covering 34 million uninsured Americans hinges on the continued performance of both Medicare and Medicaid.  It’s hard to see how squeezing more cost-savings from these programs can be done without significantly reducing benefits. A better approach would be to institute efficiencies and cost-controls in the entire health care industry.

To protect the gains women have made in the past 50 years and to keep what is left of America’s social safety net from fraying further, concerted political action is needed now.   Check out the websites of Planned Parenthood in Metropolitan Washington, national Planned Parenthood, NOW, National Women’s Law Center, and other women’s groups to find effective ways to increase your political activism. The Campaign for America’s Future is organizing an email campaign to let the President know what you would like him to say in Wednesday’s speech.

After the speech, please make your opinions known to Congress as they debate the FY 2012 budget, raising the ceiling on the federal debt, and potential cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  Women have much to lose from further spending cuts, as well as from a failure to raise the debt ceiling.

Heidi Hartmann is the President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Young Americans and Social Security

By Youngmin Yi

Bloggers, policy experts, and politicians are urging young Americans to care more about Social Security, whether they are asking us to love it, hate it, tweak it, or scrap it. But the results are already in: we care.

And if we could have it our way, Social Security would be here forever.

According to findings from an AARP report, the vast majority of people of all ages believe that Social Security is important, including 90 percent of those aged 18-29. A recent Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) survey confirms this sentiment among young adults: 63 percent of those aged 18-39 don’t support cutting Social Security benefits for deficit reduction and more than 60 percent of the group don’t think we pay enough for Social Security.

People my age (somewhere in my 20s) have grown up knowing and expecting that Social Security will be there for us in the future. Another IWPR report shows just how vital the program is for older Americans. It provides 50 percent or more of income for more than half of all men and women over the age of 65. Social Security also kept over 14 million people over the age of 65 out of poverty in 2009, 60 percent of whom are women.

In the wake of the Great Recession, American households saw their savings, home equity, and investments slip away, leaving many scrambling for resources. Pension payouts and asset values rise and fall with the tumultuous economy, and earnings remain uncertain in the face of high unemployment. But Social Security has remained a steadfast source of income in both good and bad times.

It is clear that Social Security will be important when we face retirement. But as the discussion remains focused on current retirees and deficit projections for future decades, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the Social Security debate needs our attention now and will affect us – young workers – more than anyone else.

Why is our voice important now?

Some of us already need Social Security.

If you’re like me and my friends, the term Social Security conjures up images of old age and years that lie far ahead. However, as of December 31, 2010, approximately 3.2 million children under the age of 18 were receiving Social Security benefits as children of disabled, deceased, or retired workers. 949,000 disabled children over the age of 18 were receiving benefits, as well. More than a third of Social Security beneficiaries are not retired workers. To some among us, Social Security is not only a promise of security when we are old, it is vital now.

We are already paying for and earning our retirement security.

Take a look at your most recent pay stub. It shows that you have had 4.2 percent of your wages withheld for the payroll tax, and therefore, Social Security; before the December 2010 tax package was passed, that amount was 6.2 percent of wages.  The inflammatory media and disconnected politicians have hammered away at the misguided notion that the exhaustion of the Social Security trust fund means ruin for us all. Their hypocrisy lies in the fact that younger people are told to worry and care about our future, yet policymakers give us even more of a reason to worry by threatening to cut and weaken the very program that would ensure income security for us in old age. Meanwhile, working Americans, including those our age, have been paying into Social Security with the expectation that we will receive the benefits that we have earned when it comes time to claim them.

Young Americans want Social Security to stay and stay secure.

We’ve heard the miscalculated and misrepresented statistics and the apocalyptic fear-mongering about this vital program. Now, it’s time that the naysayers listen to what young people have been saying all along.

Youngmin Yi is the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow for the 2010-2011 academic year. Originally from New Jersey, she graduated from Wellesley College in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and French.

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.

How the White House Is Putting Social Security at Risk

This blog post was originally published on New Deal 2.0. It is also published on The Huffington Post.

The payroll tax holiday in Obama’s deal endangers our largest and most loved social program.

By Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D.

In trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, the president’s advisors added a payroll tax holiday to the tax agreement they were working out with the Republicans last weekend. After giving away Bush’s estate and income tax cuts for the uber rich, they sought to get something back, and, they told me, the Republicans would not agree to the refundable aspects of the Making Work Pay Tax Credit, the president’s own signature tax cut initiative included in the 2009 stimulus package.

Earnest White House and Treasury staff members have been assuring various interest groups all week that in negotiating a payroll tax reduction of some 32 percent (a 2 percentage point cut from the worker’s share of 6.2 percent), they meant no harm to the long-term finances of the Social Security system. Not only is the higher tax rate proposed to be reinstated (without requiring a vote) after a year, but the Social Security Trust Fund is made whole by a transfer of like amounts from general revenues all during the year, so the Fund will even earn the same amount of interest it would have from payroll tax receipts. As they came under increasing pressure from Social Security advocates, the White House released a letter on Friday from Social Security’s chief actuary confirming that the Trust Fund would lose no money.

But the Trust Fund is not actually the advocates’ main concern. They’re more worried about being able to get the payroll tax up again in 2012 after the emergency situation of a tanking economy has hopefully passed. The central problem is a political one. Already some Republican members of Congress have said that a move back to 6.2 percent will be seen as a tax increase (in fact, close to a 50 percent increase), always unpopular, especially in an election year. If the payroll tax isn’t raised, squeezing the money out of general revenues every year when Social Security would be competing with all other spending could be extremely difficult, and pressure for benefit cuts would grow. As of now, the American people don’t mind paying the payroll tax: 86 percent said so in a recent survey, so giving them a short-term gift they don’t particularly want and, in exchange, putting the program that is their life support at risk is just a bad deal.

I have no doubt that the staffers working on this who have spoken with me mean well. They carefully explained to me that they set the size of the payroll tax reduction so that a person earning $20,000 per year would get a $400 tax cut, the same as under Making Work Pay; that required a 2 percentage point tax cut, which when aggregated to all workers paying the FICA tax is some $112 billion. They were pleasantly surprised when the Republicans agreed to that large a tax cut, which constitutes significant stimulus to the economy since much of that extra disposable income will be translated into demand for housing, transportation, meals, and so on.

While a payroll tax cut would be good at getting small amounts of money into each paycheck, it has some other less desirable features as stimulus. Most importantly, a lot of it goes to high-income people who tend to hold onto added income. Everyone earning more than $106,800 per year (the maximum salary on which workers will pay FICA tax in 2011) will get the full $2,136 reduction, including members of Congress, the president, Wall Street traders, and top managers across the country, and many of these high earners will save rather than spend their extra income.

Under Making Work Pay, every person with earnings of at least $6,451 got the maximum credit of $400 and married couples with earnings of at least $12,903 got the maximum couples credit of $800 (whether one or both worked). These credits started phasing out at $75,00 for singles and $150,000 for couples, and no one earning more than $95,000 ($190,000 for couples) received anything at all. For low-income people who owed no federal income taxes, the credits were refundable, so an eligible person or couple received a check from the government. With a payroll tax reduction, every individual making less than $20,000 and every married couple earning less than $40,000 (roughly 40 million workers in total) would get less than they would under a Making Work Pay extension, but the payroll tax rebate at least gives them something back. Since Republican opposition to refundability would have left many low-income people with nothing had the income tax been used as the delivery mechanism, the payroll tax cut seemed like the better alternative to White House staffers concerned about low earners.

What is most troubling now is that even though the risk to Social Security has been pointed out to the White House, these same staffers continue to insist that the rebate must take the form of a payroll tax cut delivered in every paycheck in 2011 and that other alternatives won’t do. For example, Congressman Brad Sherman has suggested issuing a rebate check to each worker early in 2011 for 2 percentage points of the 6.2 percent FICA tax each paid in 2010. Dollar-wise, that’s essentially the same as giving workers 2 percentage points in 2011. Sure, there will be more workers in 2011 (if we’re lucky and get some employment growth), but they could be included by issuing rebate checks early in 2012 based on what they earned in 2011. Also, even though research shows that lump sums aren’t spent as readily as smaller amounts, the portion spent after 3-6 months is quite substantial. And since we will need stimulus all through 2011, the difference between these two distribution systems can’t be so great as to make the Sherman alternative totally unacceptable to the White House — when it has the very important advantage of never reducing the payroll tax rate to 4.2 percent and so never having to figure out how to get it back up to 6.2 percent. While Sherman’s proposal virtually mimics the payroll tax cut, Nancy Altman, co-chair of Social Security Works and a leading advocate against the payroll tax rate cut, suggests a more progressive alternative, one that would likely increase the stimulative value of the tax cut — an identical lump sum to every worker who paid FICA tax. Such a method would direct more dollars toward lower earners (the average benefits would be on the order of $800) and therefore generate more spending.

Many people are becoming aware of the dangers to Social Security from a cut in its tax rate — phone calls, organized by groups like NOW and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, have been pouring into Congress and the White House. For sake of Social Security and the millions of women and men who depend upon it, I hope Congress will be able to negotiate a change in the agreement. Since the payroll tax cut is viewed as a Democratic win, the Republicans should not object to whatever mechanism the Democrats choose to deliver the same amount of funds. Of course, it would be better for all if the White House would just do the right thing and stop insisting on a payroll rate reduction.

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., is an economist and the president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a scientific research organization that she founded in 1987 to meet the need for women-centered, policy-oriented research. She has published numerous articles in journals and books, and her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Social Security for us 20 and 30 somethings

A Woman Running

My grandfather jokes that he makes more now off of Social Security than he did when he was working. He will turn 90 this year, and I am turning 30. I remember reading about the need for Social Security reform when I was in high school and even wrote an article for my school’s papers. The bottom line: many experts were saying back then and still are that Social Security will not be available for us when we are ready to retire, or will be greatly reduced.
What does that mean for me? Well, I started a 401K plan at my first job out of college as soon as I became eligible. Now, seven years later, I have approximately $29K saved in my IRAs. The problem for others in my age group? They are delaying starting a personal savings plan, which can be a costly mistake for their future.
I don’t understand everything there is to know about investments, but I do know this: You need to start saving early and the longer you keep saving, the more money you’ll make over the long term. Maybe Social Security will be there for us (at least if IWPR where I work now, has anything to say about it) but Social Security was never meant to be a complete retirement package—it’s supposed to be combined with employer pensions and personal savings.
It’s not always easy financially to take out that extra $20 or $50 a paycheck, but I’m hoping down the line it will pay off for me with a secure (perhaps early?) retirement. I feel proud looking at my account to see what I’ve accomplished so far at my young age.
This also points out the need for reform, and for us 20-30 somethings to ask for change in the system. Yes we know we can’t rely solely on SS for retirement, but we have paid into the system with our payroll taxes, so we deserve and are entitled to fair benefits based on our contributions.
- Michelle Schafer

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