Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Boost Social Security benefits to close women’s pay and caregiving gap

By Tatsuko Go Hollo, EOI Intern

It’s no secret that women are paid less than men across many industries. It’s also been well-documented that women are much more likely than men to work part-time. Unfortunately, employees who work part-time are often ineligible for essential benefits, such as health insurance, paid leave or a retirement plan. That’s where Social Security comes in.

Social Security is crucial to keeping women out of poverty. Without it, nearly half of women 65 and older would be living in poverty. But as good as Social Security is, the average benefit for women 65 and older is at least $3,500 lower per year than it is for men. Women 75 and older are more than twice as likely as men of the same age to live in poverty.

Why? Because Social Security doesn’t reflect the reality that women tend to take on caregiver roles – such as parenting a child or caring for a sick parent – that require them to limit their involvement in the workforce. Benefits are based on wages averaged over 35 years, so caregivers, frequently women, are penalized for those periods of time when they are not collecting wages.

Women rely on Social Security income more than men (57% of all beneficiaries over 62 are women), and for 29% of female beneficiaries over 65, Social Security is essentially their only source of income – compared with 21% of their male counterparts. Women also have a longer average lifespan than men, so they often live longer on less.

Social Security is critical to economic security for millions of American families – keeping nearly 20 million women, men and children out of poverty. But for women in particular, poverty becomes more likely with age. The Social Security benefit formula should be calculated to account for years women spend caregiving, and to compensate for the persistent pay gap between men and women in the workforce.

This blog is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

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