“The truth is, as our nation ages and retirement income continues to decline for millions of Americans, Congress should be talking about the adequacy of Social Security’s benefits — not cutting them. Congress should examine the inequities that have created a poverty rate for senior women and widows that is 50 percent higher than other retirees 65 and older. We can break this Social Security glass ceiling — in fact, we must do so to preserve the economic security of generations of American women and their families.” Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation, the National Organization for Women Foundation and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research briefed congressional staff today on their research examining the challenges facing elderly women and their families in the U.S. Their report, “Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling: A Proposal to Modernize Women’s Benefits,” also proposes initiatives to ensure Social Security benefits are adequate for all Americans, particularly for women and women of color.
“Our proposals are designed to modernize the Social Security system and recognize particularly the changes that have occurred in women’s lives and in family life, so that women will be rewarded more fairly for the full value of the work they do, both in the labor market and in raising the next generation. We can strengthen the Social Security system to address the gender gap in retirement that reveals many more older women in poverty than older men, while still addressing the financial needs of the program.” Dr. Heidi Hartmann, Institute for Women’s Policy Research President
“If implemented, the recommendations we make in ‘Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling’ will go a long way toward creating a retirement and disability insurance program that recognizes the new reality of working women and men, and values women’s role in society as both breadwinners and primary caregivers. Crediting women’s years out of the paid labor force is a long overdue feature that NOW strongly supports and urges lawmakers to support as well.” Terry O’Neill, NOW Foundation President
Here are just some of the recommendations in this groundbreaking report:
- Improving Survivor Benefits. Women living alone often are forced into poverty because of benefit reductions stemming from the death of a spouse. Providing a widow or widower with 75 percent of the couple’s combined benefit treats one-earner and two-earner couples more fairly and reduces the likelihood of leaving the survivor in poverty.
- Providing Social Security Credits for Caregivers. We recommend imputed earnings for up to five family service years be granted to workers who leave or reduce their participation in the work force to provide care to children under the age of six or to elderly family members.
- Equal Benefits for Same-Sex Married Couples and Partners. Gay and lesbian same-sex couples, whether married or not, are denied a host of state and federal benefits that are routinely provided to heterosexual married couples. Social Security benefits should not be denied to qualified retirees because of their sexual orientation.
- Restoring Student Benefits. When a working parent has died, become disabled or retired, Social Security pays benefits to children until age 18, or 19 if they are still attending high school. In the past, those benefits continued until age 22 if the child was a full-time student in college or a vocational school. Congress ended post-secondary students’ benefits in 1981, which has disproportionately hurt children of parents in blue-collar jobs, African Americans, and lower income students.
“Social Security is a vital lifeline for all Americans, especially women and people of color. When you consider that Social Security provides 90 percent of seniors’ income for 58 percent of unmarried women of color, 53 percent of Hispanics and 47 percent of African Americans, it’s hard to understand why benefit cuts are always the first answer for fiscal hawks hoping to use Social Security for deficit reduction. Building on what works, ‘Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling’ offers a modernization plan for Social Security that would strengthen benefits for women and their families while improving the equity and adequacy for generations of Americans.” Dr. Carroll Estes, NPCSSM Foundation Board Chair
While some suggest we can’t afford to provide even current level benefits to America’s retirees, people with disabilities and their families, we disagree. In fact, we believe our nation can’t afford not to provide fair and adequate benefits for future generations of working Americans. A number of funding options are included in this research, including:
- Eliminate the cap on Social Security payroll contributions.
- Slowly increase the contribution rate by 1/20th of one percent over 20 years.
- Treat all salary reduction plans like 401Ks.
Together, these proposals provide revenue increases equal to 3.99 percent of taxable payroll. They would close the actuarial deficit (2.67 percent of payroll) while also funding the modest program improvements recommended.
The full report, “Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling,” is available online (PDF).