There is a simple truth that we here at the National Organization for Women understand intimately: the fight for women’s equality is not over. This Thursday, August 14th, 2014 is the 79th anniversary of Social Security and, in the face of repeated attacks on reproductive health services, continued workplace and wage discrimination, and the persistent reliance on women as guardians and caregivers, we must celebrate and protect one of the greatest pieces of legislation in the United States’ history. Social Security is a powerful corrective that enables the elderly and the disabled to live a decent quality of life – and for nearly half of women over 651, it is 90 percent of their income.
Like many progressive social welfare programs, the Social Security Act of 1935 was born out of grassroots organizing and political action. In the early 1900s nearly 50 percent of elderly in the United States lived in poverty; there were no protections or benefits for disabled workers and their families or widows with dependents. Social Security promised a safeguard for American families and for women in particular. Today, as middle class wages stagnate and employers offer fewer benefits and retirement plans, American families struggle to save for their retirement2. After a lifetime of uneven wages, inadequate health care coverage, and the uneven burden of childcare and eldercare, women greatly rely on Social Security.
Women in the United States persevere through a myriad of structural disadvantages: Social Security provides stability for retired women and pulls many out of poverty3. From living longer4 to being primary caregivers5 for children and elders, women need Social Security and its programs6. For example, the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) federal program — which houses Social Security — provides food and nutrition assistance (such as Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC), housing assistance, and Medicaid. When women make less income and pay for more expenses like health care and food, programs like Social Security matter.
Women often do not have the resources to save for retirement, jeopardizing their future. Women miss more time from work to care for loved ones, thus missing opportunities for advancement. They receive unequal pay – 77 cents to the dollar (less for women of color) – and over a lifetime pay less into their pension benefits. That’s if their employer provides a pension plan at all! This is an urgent reminder to take action: support caregivers, vote for representatives who fight for women’s interests, and get involved!
Cuts to Social Security threaten the livelihood of women in the United States and make vulnerable aging populations. Each attack on Social Security dismantles a much needed social safety net – one that is paid into over a lifetime. Fighting to protect and support Social Security and its numerous programs is a vital component in the fight for women’s equality.
2. Barbara J. Esterling. (August 13, 2013) Happy Birthday Social Security! More important than ever. Huffington Post. ↩
3. Van de Water & Sherman. (October 16, 2012) Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Social Security Keeps 21 Million Americans out of Poverty: A State-by-State Analysis ↩