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Social Security and Women: Just the Facts

Women depend on Social Security the most, yet their average benefit is two-thirds of men’s average benefit. Women have to rely on Social Security income more heavily than men because men’s jobs more frequently include pension benefits. Since women are less likely than men to have a pension, the idea of privatization is all the more threatening. Why would any woman want to gamble with her insurance policy?

Here are the facts: Social Security is the only income source for 2.5 million women or 26 percent of all older single women. Women age 65 and over are twice as likely as men to live in poverty, with average annual incomes of less than $10,000. Since women live longer than men, they depend on Social Security for longer periods of time.

Even more startling, the Social Security system penalizes women for doing what society says is the right thing to doÑraising children. A typical woman takes an average of 11.5 years out of the workforce to care for children and elderly parents, yet she only can drop the five lowest paid years in computing her social security benefits under the current Social Security scheme. Those other nine years of zero income have a devastating effect on a woman’s ultimate Social Security benefits.

Moreover, married or divorced women (who were married for at least ten years and are currently unmarried) that get a higher Social Security benefit from their husband’s or ex-husband’s work record than their own are entitled to 50 percent of his benefits. This means that a woman who has been married for 30 years only receives 50 percent of her husband’s benefits while he receives 100 percent and frequently has another pension. If divorced, her meager 50 percent benefits may be her only income. Wouldn’t it be more equitable for each partner to receive 75 percent benefits?

Privatization is risky for women because investing in the stock market produces winners and losers: women cannot afford to be losers. President Bush’s privatization plan would be particularly detrimental to women because women typically earn less. A smaller paycheck means less money to invest in a private plan and less money to rely on in retirement.

Social Security is not going broke and politicians should stop scaring Americans. The fact is, social security is 100 percent secure until the 2030s. With surpluses from the Social Security (FICA) payroll tax to the tune of billions each year, women must demand more equitable benefits today.