Economic Security


Women 40+ are the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. workforce and their presence in the workplace will continue to increase. However, they encounter real challenges in finding meaningful employment, competitive wages, and retirement security.

OWL at Labor Dept with Lilly Ledbetter

OWL with Lilly Ledbetter at U.S. Dept. of Labor

* Despite federal anti-discrimination laws, age-based discrimination complaints have increased over the past several years by 50%. 

* Women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar men earn, and this disparity increases with age.

* Women represent a much smaller proportion (24%) than men (76%) in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs, which are fastest-growing employment sectors.

* Many working women are caregivers to children and/or aging parents.  They are often required to cut back on work, decline promotions, or leave the workforce altogether to fulfill caregiving responsibilities.

* Underemployment is especially prevalent among older women. Of men age 55-61, only 7.2% are underemployed; for women in the same age group, the percentage jumps to 20.5%.

* After a lifetime of reduced income, women have less in savings and retirement benefits. Almost twice as many retired women live in poverty as retired men.

Social Security and Women

One of the guiding principles in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution is to “promote the general welfare.”  We’d be hard-pressed to name a program that achieves that goal more effectively than Social Security.

Today—80 years after FDR signed the Social Security Act—Social Security continues to be one of the nation’s most successful, effective, and popular programs. It’s by far the most effective anti-poverty program in the United States.

Critical to Women’s Retirement Security

While Social Security is important to all Americans, it is even more so to women.  Women rely more on income from Social Security than men do.  And older women are at greater risk of being poor: in 2013, of those 65+, more than twice as many women as men lived in poverty. 
    • Women make up more than half of all beneficiaries age 62+, and around two-thirds of beneficiaries age 85+.

    • Without Social Security, nearly half of women 65+ would be poor.

    • Women have longer life expectancies than men, so they live more years into retirement and run a higher risk of exhausting their savings.

    • Women are less likely than men to have a pension, and their pensions are likely to be smaller than men’s, due to earning lower wages or spending time out of the workforce to serve as caregivers.

    • Unlike pensions, Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation and last for the lifetime.

Did you know…

Widespread Support

Americans of all ages continue to have strong feelings of support for Social Security. An AARP survey conducted in conjunction with Social Security’s 80th anniversary showed Social Security remains popular across generations and political ideologies:

    • 66% of Americans believe Social Security is one of the most important government programs.

    • Four in five adults rely on Social Security, or plan to rely on it, as a source of retirement income.

    • 82% of Americans believe it’s important to contribute to Social Security for the common good.

    • 90% of adults under age 30 believe Social Security is an important government program, and 85% want to know it will be there when they retire.

OWL Recommends

We recognize that maintaining and strengthening Social Security is critical to ensuring the financial security of older women and their families. 
These aspects of the program are particularly important to women and should be protected:

    • Eligibility for Social Security benefits through work and marriage;
    • Progressive benefit formula;
    • Cost of living increases;
    • Payments that last for the lifetime.

We recommend strengthening the program by:

    • Creating an improved minimum benefit;
    • Allowing credit for years spent care-giving;
    • Raising the payroll tax cap that has been kept artificially low because of stagnant wages;
    • Providing equal benefits for married same-sex couples, and
    • Improving the current cost of living adjustment by adopting the Consumer Price Index -CPI-E (for “elderly”), an alternative, experimental index maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that is more sensitive to retirees’ spending.

Check out OWL’s Huffington Post blog on strengthening Social Security to learn more.

Encore Careers After 40

Venture Capital Word Cloud

OWL recognizes the growing number of skilled and talented women over 40 who are starting their own business.  Women-owned businesses, which now number over 9 million, have become a force in the nation’s economy. Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult for women to score venture capital (VC) funding than their proven success would make it seem. Our initiative, “Our Women Mean Business” is designed to encourage and support these entrepreneurs by:
•  increasing their access to venture capital to start or expand their business;
•  highlighting best practices and identifying business challenges and solutions;
•  bringing their successes and concerns to Executive and legislative leadership and the media
•  compiling resources for mentoring and training

Check out OWL’s Huffington Post blog on the topic to learn more.

Retirement Security

After decades of work, both in the paid and unpaid workforce, women often find themselves without adequate retirement income.  There are a number of reasons why.  Women are less likely to participate in a pension plan even if they work for employers with a pension because their jobs tend not to be covered by it.  Those jobs include part-time jobs which have fewer benefits in addition to smaller paychecks.  Also, many women cut back on work, decline promotions, or leave the workforce entirely to fulfill caregiving responsibilities for family members.  After a lifetime of smaller paychecks, women have less in Social Security benefits, savings and retirement benefits than their male counterparts.  And, women are more likely to be poor than are men. The poverty rate for women 65 and older was 11%, while the poverty rate for men was 6%.

Social Security - Disability

A vital part of Social Security is the disability insurance program that provides modest benefits to individuals who suffer from a serious illness or impairment and cannot work because of their medical condition. In order to be eligible for benefits, individuals must work in jobs covered by Social Security, and the illness or impairment must be one that is expected to last a year or more or result in death.  Spouses and dependent children of disabled workers may also be eligible for benefits based on the disabled worker’s record.  After a person receives disability benefits for two years, that person will then be covered by Medicare automatically.  In 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available, 960,000 disabled workers were awarded Social Security disability income benefits, as well as 563,000 spouses and dependent children.  The average benefit awarded was $1,204 per month to a disabled worker, $322 per month to the spouse and $314 to a dependent child.

About 71% of Social Security disability insurance beneficiaries get half or more of their income from disability insurance. Nearly half of beneficiaries get 90% or more of their income from disability insurance.

Social Security provides the primary source of income for most retirees. The combined Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance Trust Funds (OASDI) will continue to be fully funded until 2033, according to the 2014 Social Security trustees report issued July 28.  After 2033, the income in the OASDI Trust Funds could pay 77% of scheduled benefits.  Separately, the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund can provide full benefits to disabled workers only until 2016, then 81% of benefits after that.  Lawmakers should act soon to ensure that full benefits continue for disabled workers and their families.  This could be done by raising the disability income tax rate from 0.9% to 1.1% to fully fund DI for the next 75 years or by reallocating some of the Old-Age, Survivors Insurance taxes to the Disability Insurance trust funds temporarily to allow the combined OASDI trust funds to pay full benefits until 2033.  Over the long-term, policy makers need to make changes to the combined OASDI Trust Funds to ensure that full benefits to retired and disabled workers can be paid for generations to come.     

Addressing the Wage Gap

equal pay

The wage gap and its effect on women’s economic security has been an OWL issue since our founding in 1980.  The good news is that over the past 34 years, the gap has narrowed.  In the early 1980s, women earned about 60 cents for every dollar that men earned.  By the time The Path to Poverty, OWL’s 1995 Mother’s Day report, was published, women’s wages were 76% of men’s. In recent years, the wage gap has stalled at 77%.  In the most recent year for which figures are available, 2012, women earned 76.5% of what men earned.

Age is a factor that widens the wage gap for women.  Young full-time working women (20-24 years old) were paid 89% of their male peers’ pay, while women 55-64 years old received 76% of their male peers’ pay.  Women in the work force receive about 90% of what men are paid until around the age of 35, when median earnings for women increase more slowly than men’s median earnings. After that, women receive 75% to 80% of what men are paid.

There is more to be done. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, if change continues at the same pace as the previous fifty years, it will take until 2058 for the gap to close.

President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on January 29, 2009, which restored the protection against pay discrimination that was stripped away by the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. While this was a good step, the gap remains and there is more work to be done. OWL supports legislation to add protections against gender-based pay discrimination.

OWL Recommendations on Economic Security

Our recommendations to strengthen women’s economic security include:

- an adequate, equitable wage for women

- strengthening and enforcing laws barring discrimination based on age, gender, sexual orientation, race, creed, disability and national origin

- funding and strengthening employment training programs for workers 40 and older

- raising the minimum wage      

- requiring living wages and benefits for direct-care workers, 90% of whom are women

- strengthening Social Security to provide a higher benefit for workers with long careers but low lifetime earnings

- providing Social Security and tax credits for caregivers who spend time out of the paid workforce to care for a family member

- strengthening the existing pension system to make it more inclusive, adequate and fair for part-time and lower-income workers and their spouses

- improving employer retirement savings plans, such as 401(k)s, so that less of the risk and burden are placed on workers to invest and manage their money.

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