Led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), 36 women members of Congress sent a letter to President Bush in response to President Bush’s remarks on Social Security last week. The Congresswomen expressed their concern about the ways Social Security privatization would negatively affect women, who make up almost 60 percent of Social Security beneficiaries. “We welcome efforts to strengthen and improve Social Security, but we believe privatization would do neither,” the Congresswomen wrote. “Privatization would eliminate key protections vital to women under the current Social Security structure, and it would substantially weaken the financial status of the Social Security Trust Fund by draining trillions from it to fund the private accounts.”
Social Security “helps level the playing field for women,” who on average earn less then men and have fewer years in the workforce, while privatization would provide benefits based only on worker contributions, which would disproportionately harm women. Social Security benefits are paid out until the end of a recipient’s life, whereas a private account would have finite funds that would need to last indefinitely. With women’s longer life expectancies, this means that their average monthly income would be even smaller. Social Security also provides “automatic protection” for widows with no reduction in the husband’s benefit and it provides benefits to dependents.
“By providing a guaranteed, core retirement income, Social Security is crucial for helping American seniors achieve retirement security,” said Pelosi in a press statement. “The benefit cuts being proposed by the Bush Administration would jeopardize the retirement security of millions of American workers, leaving them unable to maintain a basic standard of living.” According to the National Women’s Law Center, without Social Security, more than half of women over 65 would be poor.
Meanwhile, Representative Bill Thomas (R-CA), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, suggested today that lawmakers should discuss whether Social Security benefits should be allocated differently for men and women, since women tend to live longer on average. “We never have debated gender-adjusting Social Security,” he told the Washington Post. “This outrageous suggestion would result in lowering women’s benefits, which are already on average one-third lower than men’s,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. “What we should be doing is figuring out how to not penalize women for their time out of the workforce for childcare and care of the sick and elderly.”