Happy Birthday, Social Security! (And Thanks for All You Do for Older Women.)

This post is part of the National Organization for Women’s #SSBdayBash celebrating Social Security’s birthday while advocating for improving its impact on women.

Social Security turns 78 today, which is a great cause for celebration: the program has been a lifeline for millions of Americans, and especially for older women.

Portrait of happy woman via Shutterstock
Portrait via Shutterstock

Social Security is, in theory, “gender neutral” – benefits are doled out equally to individuals without respect to their gender identity. Although that formula fails to take into account the unpaid labor women often complete at home, and also overlooks differences in pay rates, the program has still been invaluable in helping women maintain economic stability in their older years. Social Security is of massive importance to older Americans, and is often the most common and the largest source of income for folks in their age ranges. Since decades of inequity add up, women are less economically secure than men by the time they reach 65 – Social Security is paramount in their lives.

Here are the cold, hard facts:

+ 85% of women receive income from Social Security who are aged 65 or older; they receive a greater share of their overall income from Social Security than men do in older age. The need and relative benefit of the program only increases with age, although once women hit 65 they’re likely receiving a large share of their income from SS regardless. For women who are unmarried and living alone, 48% of their income source is a Social Security check; anywhere from 29% to 67% of all women rely on those checks for 100%, 80%, or even 50% of their economic needs.

+ Across the board, women of all races rely on the Social Security program to survive. But as you parse statistics for race and ethnicity, it becomes clear that the program is sustaining non-white people of all genders economically. The largest gender gap in Social Security reliance occurs between white men and women; people of color and women both suffer from workplace inequity over their lifetimes and thus need Social Security in place of retirement funds to stay out of poverty. Women of color in particular are hit hard economically in older age as a result of holding typically low-earning positions throughout their lives.

+ According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, married and unmarried women rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income more than their male companions do regardless of race. (The one exception is unmarried black men versus unmarried black women, in which 42 percent of men and 39 percent of women rely on Social Security to that degree.)

+ Without Social Security, 25 million people would fall below the poverty line. Irregardless of race, the absence of Social Security would send women over 65 into poverty at disastrous rates; for women over 75, it would put a majority of them below the poverty line.

Although Social Security could use a little bit of modernization, and could be more sensitive to LGBT and gender discrimination, the program’s continued livelihood overall is a huge victory for women’s rights advocates, all of whom have stood united time and time again against threats to shut it down. Social Security is keeping elderly women alive, well, and secure; unlike Wall Street investments, it’s a reliable and consistent source of income.

Without Social Security, women’s lives and futures would look much different in this country – so today, let’s celebrate 78 years of support and solvency.

For more information on Social Security with respects to age, ethnicity, and gender, check out the Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s reports on the issue or NOW’s Social Security action center.

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