Social Security Is A Women’s Issue

frankie-alice old fashioned phoneOur pal Helaine Olen makes a provocative point in Slate: when GOP candidates attack social security, they are attacking women.

In national politics, the war on women isn’t always about denying women the right to choose to end a pregnancy or to have health insurance pay for contraception. It’s also about denying women their financial dignity.

So is Social Security another front in the politicians’ affronts to the lives of American women? “Absolutely,” says Nancy Altman, co-founder of the advocacy organization Social Security Works and co-author of a book with the same name. “Attacks on the program are attacks on everyone, but they are especially attacks on women.” …

From the time an American can first claim eligibility at age 62, the majority of those receiving a Social Security check in retirement are female—56 percent to start off, to be specific. But because women outlive men, that discrepancy grows only larger with time. By age 85, about two-thirds of the recipients are women.

Moreover, women—who earn less than men and take more pauses from the workforce (due in part to their assumption of caretaking duties for everyone from children to elderly relatives)—are more dependent on Social Security for their economic well-being in their final years than their male peers are.

Women need Social Security more, in other words, and for longer stretches of time. Any threats to it leave them uniquely vulnerable.

Where do the various candidates stand on Social Security? Here’s one collection of their positions, wherein various politicians suggest raising the retirement age or making other “fixes” to the system, because, as we’ve all heard a thousand times, reform is necessary when a system is destined to go broke.

Is Social Security destined to go broke, though? Motley Fool surveyed three experts and two of the three said No, bankruptcy is not in the cards. The third expert said it will go bankrupt but “not for long.” John T. Harvey at Forbes, meanwhile, has an explainer on why “Social Security Cannot Go Bankrupt” that is so popular, he’s posted it at least three times, and each iteration reaches a huge readership :

We can voluntarily choose to suspend or eliminate the program, but it could never fail because it “ran out of money.” This belief is the result of a common error: conceptualizing Social Security from the micro (individual) rather than the macro (economy-wide) perspective. It’s not a pension fund into which you put your money when you are young and from which you draw when you are old. It’s an immediate transfer from workers today to retirees today. That’s what it has always been and that’s what it has to be–there is no other possible way for it to work. …

At the national level, maintaining a class of retirees (whether via Social Security or private pensions) means redistributing existing output, not putting money under your mattress. Although you can run out of money for retirement, we, as a nation, cannot.

What, then, you may ask, is the Social Security Trust Fund, the pool of money that people say will dry up and make it impossible for anyone to receive their Social Security payments? It is the surplus that resulted from having collected more in taxes than was necessary to pay out to retirees. Let me say that again: it is how much existing workers were overtaxed relative to the need to pay retirees in the past. It was never the source of the money we’ve been paying to Social Security recipients all these years. Strictly speaking, it’s completely unnecessary if we are able to precisely and continuously match tax revenues and pay outs.

Olen concurs:

this whole idea that Social Security is going bankrupt, as both Republicans and self-proclaimed centrist organizations like the Third Way like to claim, is a myth. Estimates are that somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of the projected funding shortfall could be eliminated by raising something called the payroll tax cap, which is the amount of earnings taxed for Social Security. This year, that’s $118,500. It’s an amount earned by less than 10 percent of all workers. …

So, a plea: The next time you hear someone proclaim Social Security needs to be saved from itself, tell them how it protects elderly women—like his mother and grandmother.

That’s a fun twist. Instead of “think of the children!” we should all start saying, “Think of the grandmas!”

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