This OpEd by Donna Smith could have been written by me.
My advancing age makes me think more about what kind of retirement lies ahead for me. I am more afraid now than I ever have been about the clock ticking ever faster toward the day when I will not have the resources to retire well and will have to keep working for someone else longer than I may want to or am able to physically.
And in the current political environment, with growing amounts of vitriol aimed at anything termed an “entitlement” program like Social Security or Medicare, many of us who believed there would be a social insurance safety net in place for us as the bumps and bruises of life kept us from being independently wealthy leading into our later years are scared and rightly so. There are targets on our backs as if we have somehow been slackers who see ourselves as “entitled” to something we did not earn.
That offends me. That sort of thinking terrifies me. I have worked very hard for more than four-and-a-half decades. No slacking. I have been willing to do whatever it took to keep my family afloat financially. And no matter what, I have worked.
I worked for it. I earned it. Social Security and Medicare are not welfare. I’ve been paying my premiums since I was sixteen years old, and I continue to pay with every paycheck. So I am damned sick and tired of being told by people who will never have to worry themselves sick about their retirements, that I may have to do with less because they have other priorities such as endless wars and propping up mega-corporations.
Like many women in my generation, I began working outside my home as a young teenager, and I began contributing to Social Security and sometimes when I could do so to other retirement plans. But also like many women who work outside the home, I often worked jobs that did not afford me enrollment in retirement plans or have any employer contribution to speak of to those plans.
Additionally, as we have all seen in recently released studies, women still earn about 70 percent of what men do for the same work in the United States. That drastically and negatively impacts our ability to have the same benefits accumulated when we reach retirement age. Add a few negative life events – a divorce, an illness, and unexpected trauma here and there – and women face sometime total reliance on those social insurance benefits – Social Security and Medicare – to which we have contributed throughout our lives rather than have those benefits simply be a supplement to some private retirement funds.
So when Social Security and Medicare are targeted, I am targeted.
President Obama’s debt commission has begun its “bipartisan” work. Where have we heard this before? How did women and working folks fare in their other bipartisan efforts? In the latest New York Times report, “Mr. Obama met privately with the commission members at the White House before their meeting at an executive office building across the street. In the Rose Garden afterward, he told reporters that he had insisted that everything be on the negotiating table.”
I sure had everything on the table as I worked for my family. I left it all on the field, friends. And there’s not much left for me now. I will keep working as hard as I can for as long as I can – and I hope as smart as I can – but I am angry that the rules of engagement are about to change for me again. I am tired of trying to reinvent myself financially – time is running out.
Cutting my Social Security and cutting my Medicare is cutting short the years I may have left on this earth to enjoy life. And there are millions like me. There is no way to restore years of life lost once you do that to us. And I, for one, have no intention of letting that happen quietly. I worked too hard and cared too much for those around me to have “entitlement cutters” with no moral compass or sense of social justice at all determine the quality of my life should be any less than anyone else’s.
I’m counting on Social Security. I made a deal with my government. I kept up my end of the bargain. I’m entitled.
As research by IWPR and others show, the current Social Security program is a mainstay for women. Women are 57% of all adult benefi ciaries, including retirees, the disabled, and the survivors of deceased workers. Twenty-five million adult women receive Social Security checks every month.
• For both men and women 65 and older, Social Security is their largest source of income, compared with other sources including earnings, pensions, and income from assets such as savings accounts.
• Women rely on Social Security for a larger part of their income in retirement than do men, because women are less likely to have income from their own pensions than men (21% of women vs. 43% of men) and their pension benefi ts are less than half of men’s on average.
• Social Security provides more generous benefi ts to lower earners for the amount of taxes paid, as compared with higher earners. Because women have lower earnings on average than men, they benefit from this distribution toward lower earners.
• Since women’s life expectancy is nearly 5 years longer than men (80 for women vs. 75 for men), women rely disproportionately on survivors’ benefits and on the full cost of living adjustment in Social Security, which protects them from inflation as they age.
• Nearly 20% of unmarried women 65 and older live below the poverty line, compared with 5% of married elderly women. Without Social Security benefits, more than two-thirds of unmarried elderly women would live in poverty.
• Social Security provides benefits to living and surviving spouses. Despite women’s increasing employment and improved lifetime earnings, 34% of women aged 62 and older still rely on spousal benefits (based on their husbands’ or ex-husbands’ earnings records) for their retirement security; another 28% also rely on benefits partly based on their husbands’ or ex-husbands’ earnings records and partly on their own earnings records.