BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Why Social Security Must Be Protected

Posted by egehl on July 22, 2011

The word “budget” seems to be on everyone’s mind these days, especially in the halls of Congress.

Every day there are new twists and turns to the never-ending budget and debt ceiling debacle.   The debt crisis our country faces will impact each of us as Congress makes decision to slash trillions of dollars away from vital programs and services that impact every facet of our society.  In order to address the looming federal deficit, legislators have proposed cutting social safety net programs to reduce spending. 

Programs big and small are on the chopping block, however the bigger ones such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are the big goliaths that everyone is afraid of touching, but know it has to be done.  The problem is that if poor decisions are made about these important programs now it could be devastating for years to come, especially for women.

Various proposals are swirling around, and many could be quite scary for our seniors.  For example, Social Security benefits could be deeply cut by increasing the full retirement age above 67, possibly to 70, and reducing the Cost-of-living Adjustment (COLA) by switching to the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI).  Unfortunately using the “chained CPI” would cut benefits for everyone immediately and would cumulate over time, so that those who live the longest would suffer the deepest cuts.

Social Security is essential for older women’s economic well-being.  Women disproportionately depend on Social Security because their life expectancy is five years longer than men, they rely more on survivor benefits, they are less likely than men to have income from their own pensions, and because women have lower earnings on average across their lifetime they benefit from Social Security’s generous benefits to lower earners.

Women who are most economically vulnerable, including those with disabilities, live alone or have limited means, face the greatest risk as a result of these proposed cuts.  They face hurdles to gain financial stability on their own because many women cannot find employment at older ages, do not have pensions, and have been unable to save sufficiently because of wage discrimination and time taken out of the paid workforce for care-giving.

The National Council of Women’s Organizations has launched a new initiative to call on Congress to RESPECT women, PROTECT Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and REJECT any budget plans that threaten the economic security of women.  The goal of this campaign is to get the message across to key lawmakers that budget decisions should not be made at the expense of vulnerable women.

My mother is a perfect example of the critical need for Social Security.  I distinctly remember when she turned 65, a year after she was widowed and two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated my hometown, and she lost her job because of the storm.  She and I repeatedly said how thankful and lucky we were that the timing of her birthday coincided with that hard year otherwise the devastation to our home, on top of her job loss, could have put my family in financial straits.  I can’t imagine what we would have done if we had to wait another 5 years until she turned 70 for her to begin receiving benefits.

My mother stayed at home while I was growing up and didn’t starting working full-time until I was in highschool, and never made a great salary.  Therefore her Social Security benefits were fairly dismal and she was thankful she could receive my father’s benefits.  Over the past 6 years Social Security has been at the heart of my mother’s income and given her the means to stay in the home I grew up in, and have the modest lifestyle she wants and deserves.  Therefore I have seen firsthand how Social Security is truly a lifesaving foundation for older woman, and must be protected.

The reality is that our country needs to tighten its belt.  And all of us will have to make some level of sacrifice to make that happen.  However there are common sense ways to accomplish these goals without causing undue detriment to our citizens susceptible to hardship.  I just hope our leaders heed that warning.

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