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National NOW Times >> Summer, 2000 >> Article

Women and Social Security Impact Presidential Race

by Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director and Heather Gomes, Legal Intern

Perhaps no election issue is more critical to women and their families than Social Security. A Washington Post/ABC News Poll last fall reported that 95 percent of women said Social Security will be important or very important to them in choosing this year's presidential winner. Realizing that this is an issue high on women's lists of concerns, Al Gore and George W. Bush have been sparring on Social Security-each with major reform proposals.

Gov. Bush's privatization plan would carve money out of the Social Security system for the creation of private savings accounts-a move that would force benefit cuts, raise the retirement age and/or remove cost-of-living increases. A report in the May Wall Street Journal found that a shift of two percent of Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts would bankrupt the system by 2023 without these changes. Most polls show that the public is very much against these trade-offs.

Bush promises to spend the budget surplus on tax cuts rather than shoring up Social Security. However, one recent poll, conducted by EDK Associates on behalf of Lifetime Television, reported that 72 percent of respondents felt that guaranteeing Social Security benefits to future generations should be a higher priority than tax cuts.

Vice President Gore's plan addresses solvency and would make Social Security more fair for women. Gore's proposes to use most of the budget surplus to pay down the national debt and then draw on the savings in interest payments to keep the Social Security Trust Fund solvent. Gore's Retirement Savings Plus plan-in which the government would provide matching funds, through tax credits, for individual savings accounts-would not take money from Social Security, but rather act as a supplement to it.

The Vice President also promises new benefits for surviving spouses and employed women. Under current law, when one spouse dies, the survivor's benefits can be reduced by as much as 50 percent, even though expenses such as rent and utilities remain fixed. Gore would raise the survivor's benefit to three-quarters of the couple's combined benefit.

His plan would also eliminate the "motherhood penalty." The typical woman works in paid employment only 27 years, while the current Social Security formula is based on average earnings over 35 years of work. So a woman's years raising children (or caring for elderly parents) are counted as zeros in calculating average Social Security earnings. Gore would allow parents to take a credit for up to five years of earnings if they take that time to raise children.

NOW and other women's organization commended the Vice President on his proposals, but noted that other changes are needed to address the special problems of divorced women (especially those married fewer than 10 years), long-term care-givers, women with disablities, widows and low-income workers.

The National Council of Women's Organizations, of which NOW is an active member, sponsored a three-day retreat on Social Security. At the retreat a small group of experts and advocates, including NOW Foundation Executive Vice President Kim Gandy and Public Policy Director Jan Erickson, developed a variety of proposals. These are outlined in the report "Strengthening Social Security for Women," available at the NCWO web site listed below.

NOW, as part of NCWO's Task Force on Women and Social Security, is working to educate women about Social Security and to urge them to find out which candidates will protect Social Security and oppose privatization. It is critical that NOW activists get involved in the fight to preserve and strengthen Social Security. Call NOW's Government Relations department at 202-628-8669, ext. 101 or e-mail to receive a packet of information and brochures. Also, check out the NCWO web site at to read more, and send an e-mail to to sign up to receive updates and announcements.

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