Thursday, September 25, 2008

"You can't save what you don't earn"

"You can't save what you don't earn"

When you woke up today and listened to your morning news show, were you worried about your current or future Social Security check? I know I wasn't. I am however concerned about the length of time it will take for my private retirement accounts to recover from the worst economic downturn of my lifetime, and eventually grow into an amount which could possibly allow me to retire free from poverty. The odds are not in my favor. The reality is that women's retirement and men's retirement look vastly different.

Women still earn fewer cents on the dollar than men 44 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act. Fewer dollars earned means fewer dollars to save. I am expected to live on average six years longer than my male counterpart. I am also projected to spend up to twelve years caregiving for children, grandchildren, spouse, parents or grandparents. These twelve years of labor are of course unpaid.

Last year the Supreme Court slapped women in the face by saying that they need to file a pay discrimination case within 180 days of the first instance of pay discrimination. If this statute of limitations wasn't enforced, the flood gates of litigation could potentially spill open with an unconscionable and uncontrollable mob of women seeking a judicial remedy for discrimination. How tragic this could be for big business. Wait, will someone remind me why we have a court system -- I was under the impression that it was a way to remedy wrongs -- perhaps wrongs such as failing to follow the Equal Pay Act? Unless the Senate passes the House passed fair pay legislation and it survives a Presidential veto, it doesn't look like women can rely on being paid the same as men.

So, while I earn my $.77 on the dollar compared to men, I am happy to know that at a bare minimum, I am earning Social Security credits, even when I may not have additional money at the end of the month to place in a private retirement account. I know that my Social Security will be adjusted for inflation and is guaranteed by the government, which is a whole lot more secure than Wall Street. Additionally, I know that the trust fund is predicted to be solvent for at least 33 more years. And with some adjustments, the fund can be made to be solvent for many future generations

The Social Security system is an embodiment of the long-standing American principle of social insurance, providing nearly universal coverage for workers and their families through a pooling of resources, benefits, and risk.

Women are the majority of Social Security beneficiaries and rely more heavily on the benefit for retirement income. But I wanted to make sure you also knew that many young women depend on Social Security too. The disability and survivor benefits Social Security provides to families when a wage earner dies or becomes disabled is irreplaceable. Social Security needs to be maintained, strengthened and to take into consideration the value of caregiving to society.

If we ever moved to private accounts instead of Social Security, we would all have to rely on the risks of the stock market to make up the difference. Not a pleasant thought for Americans as we read the financial pages this week, but especially unappealing for women.

Ashley B. Carson
Executive Director, OWL


Monday, September 22, 2008

Social Security and the Economy

Social Security and the Economy

Was your seatbelt fastened last week?  This rollercoaster we have for an economy took us on quite a ride.  Actually, the image of a rollercoaster is not exactly accurate.  It presumes there is a track and there is clearly no track for this ride.  It is wild, unpredictable, and not many of us are having fun.  Also, we don’t know where it ends.

I’m not sure we know the lessons to be drawn yet, but one obvious observation is that the only hope for preventing a complete financial meltdown is the federal government.  Ironic, isn’t?  An administration that has spent seven years pushing deregulation and private market solutions now looks to government and taxpayers to save us from the consequences of those policies.

I’m not unhappy about this solution.  I am hoping it will work.  There will be many lessons to be learned but two are very relevant to women and to OWL.  The first is that our whole economy is so global and so interrelated that “safe” investments aren’t so “safe” when the credit house of cards falls down.  The second is that the approach to many problems must be collective, not individual.  If you have read or listened to the columnists and commentators within the last week who make a living telling you how to have a comfortable retirement, you will have noticed that they have no advice in this market beyond “don’t retire now”.  Little comfort for those already retired or about to be laid off.

The most secure solution for those retired or looking to retire is Social Security – a government-sponsored, guaranteed income program.  Who would have predicted that!!  Well, OWL for one.  While the Bush Administration advocated for individual accounts and the advantages of passing on the account to your heirs if you died young, OWL was concerned about women and men out-living their retirement funds and advocated to keep Social Security a progressive, social insurance program.  It is not polite to say “We told you so” but we did.

OWL has long advocated that an appropriate role for government is to provide universal retirement benefits through a social insurance program.  Preserving, defending, and improving Social Security has been one of OWL’s major issues for the past twenty years.  This past week demonstrates what OWL has maintained all along, that OWL’s agenda is not just good for women, it is good for everyone.

Ellen A. Bruce

President, OWL National Board

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sexism - Politics

Women candidates have been in the forefront this election year – first with Hillary Clinton running for the Democratic Presidential nomination and now with Sarah Palin nominated as the Republican Vice-Presidential choice.

The visibility of women in the political process is very positive for women for two reasons.  First, it raises the public debate about what is sexist, and second, it offers the potential of having women’s policy issues debated and addressed.

Let me talk about sexism first.  Some statements are clearly sexists such as a heckler shouting “iron my shirts” to Senator Clinton as she was campaigning.  And some statements are clearly not sexist such as any candidate using the expression “…putting lipstick on a pig” when referring to another candidate’s policies.  Sexism is very prevalent in our political and business dealings and a serious issue that hurts women of all ages.  Twisting it for political gain belittles the issue and at a minimum is a cynical attempt to manipulate the vote of women.  Understanding what is sexist and what isn’t is important to us.

What about asking a women with young children how she will handle being Vice President when reporters don’t ask male candidates that question? What about accusing women candidates of being “strident” or “shrill” or fawning over them because they are “cute” or “perky”.  How are women running for office supposed to be both likeable and tough?  The beauty of Sarah Palin on the Republican ticket is that it has silenced the conservative commentators.  All of a sudden being the mother of a pregnant unwed teenager is not a reflection of the mother.  Perhaps now we can put families off limits for the petty, vicious snipping that television passes off as news.

But let’s talk about the real issues women care about.  What does the candidate, male or female, stand for?  What policies will he or she support?  As a woman, I would like to see more women in political life because I hope they will bring a sensitivity to the job founded in their life experiences – that they will support policies that help people who raise children and care for elders, who cannot afford health care and who have no place to live.  I am not so na├»ve as to think that just because you are a woman you will support the OWL agenda and hopefully women generally don’t believe or vote that way.  The true test of a candidate is whether they care about the issues you care about and will support the solutions you believe in.

So in this year of “women rising” let our voices be heard for what we believe in:  access to high-quality, affordable health care, economic security, and dignity and respect for people of all ages and abilities and of course regardless of your gender.


Ellen A. Bruce, President

OWL National Board of Directors