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Social Security Provides Essential Support for Women

En español | It’s common knowledge that Social Security plays a critical role in the lives of millions. For women, it is a lifeline. 

 Consider these important facts:

  • The majority of Social Security recipients are women, and their share grows as we go up the age ladder. Consider Social Security recipients who are in their sixties. Women make up about 54 percent of this group. Among Social Security recipients who have reached their nineties, seven in 10 are women.  
  • Women often need Social Security income to pay all their bills, and we see this most clearly with disadvantaged populations. When we look at the millions of women who receive 90 percent or more of their income from Social Security, 37.9 percent are African American and 31.3 percent are Hispanic. Among Whites, 26.1 percent of older women fall into this group. 
  •  Women rely on Social Security benefits they earn through years of their own hard work, as well as on Social Security benefits that their partners have earned through years of work. For example, widows make up the vast majority who receive Social Security survivor benefits after a worker’s death — 79 percent — far outpacing the numbers that go to older men.

To understand the importance of Social Security for women, it helps to consider the financial challenges that women face through the course of their lives.  

It’s no secret that women typically earn less money than men. Women are more likely to leave their jobs or cut back hours to serve as caregivers for ailing loved ones. Faced with the costs of childcare and the demands of motherhood, many feel pressure to “lean out” of the workforce. And I haven’t even mentioned gender bias that exists in many workplaces. Women end up with less in savings, income and benefits when they retire. On top of that, women live longer than men, which means they have more years to pay for in retirement. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored these challenges. Women accounted for nearly 60 percent of the pandemic job losses at the end of 2021. Of these women, more than one third had been jobless for six months or more.

While the pandemic has dramatized such difficulties, the financial challenges facing women are deeply ingrained in society. Consider the chronic problem of lower pay. Although there has been some improvement at younger age levels, women overall have been earning just 82 percent of what men earn for the past two decades, according to the Pew Research Center.

Women’s longevity is another factor that affects financial security in later life. According to the Social Security Administration, a 65-year-old man can expect to live to age 84. By contrast, a 65-year-old woman is projected to reach age 87 — adding many dollars to the cost of her retirement. 

The economic challenges I have highlighted help explain why some of Social Security’s specific features are so essential for women. 
For one, Social Security benefits are guaranteed. They do not go up and down with financial markets or the policies of an employer. This reliability can help you plan ahead and hopefully provides some peace of mind. If you don’t already have a Social Security account, you can set one up to using an online calculator to find out how much you may receive in the future, see a record of your lifetime earnings, and learn how to claim your Social Security benefits when you’re ready to retire. 

Unlike many private pensions, Social Security gives an annual cost-of-living adjustment, protecting individuals from inflation, which can mean lower buying power over time. This year, for example, Social Security’s inflation hike boosted benefits by 8.7 percent. Last year, it raised benefits 5.9 percent. These cost-of-living adjustments can add up to many thousands of dollars in a long retirement.
I also should point out that Social Security’s benefit formula is progressive. That means workers who earn less money generally get a higher percentage of their pre-retirement earnings back in Social Security than workers who earned more money. At the same time, benefits are often quite modest, averaging just above $1,830 a month for retired workers – and often less, so we need to make sure Social Security remains adequate for those who need it the most. 

Every day, AARP members remind us how much they rely on the Social Security benefits they have earned through years of hard work. AARP will fight to keep Social Security strong for retirees, workers and future generations. 

As lawmakers consider the program’s finances, it is crucial that they recognize Social Security’s vital role in women’s lives.

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