We’re in the homestretch of the 2016 election and women voters are certainly getting a lot of attention. Older women — particularly women of the boomer generation — may decide the presidential election. Unfortunately, the candidates and the news media aren’t addressing their everyday needs and concerns.
What really worries boomer women — and how the next president and Congress can help — is spelled out clearly in a new AARP survey of 50-plus women voters in battleground states conducted by bipartisan pollsters Celinda Lake and Linda DiVall.
The big picture is clear: A 50-year-old woman today is looking at 20 or even 30 more years of life after so-called retirement age, and this is creating a new set of anxieties — especially if she makes less than $50,000 a year. She’s worried about making ends meet and whether she’ll be financially secure when she retires. She’s wondering if there will be anyone to take care of her as she ages even as she worries about being able to take care of her loved ones.
Pocketbook issues and retirement security are the biggest concerns
As with many Americans, the incomes of boomer women haven’t gone up very much in the last few years. So making their finances work is a delicate balance. Anything that eats into their earnings can tip the scales.
When it comes to family budgets, they worry most about two things on the expense side of the ledger that are out of their control.
- A significant majority (64 percent) of boomer women across income levels said they worry about prices rising faster than their incomes.
- Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of those earning less than $50,000 also worry about paying too much in taxes.
As they look ahead to retirement, staying independent and being financially secure are big concerns.
- Almost half (47 percent) of all boomer women polled said they worry about being able to take care of themselves as they age. For women making less than $50,000, that number goes up to 56 percent.
As a group, older women face tough financial prospects. They live longer than men, but, on average, their incomes are lower and they’ve had fewer retirement savings opportunities. In fact, millions are nearing traditional retirement age with little or no savings. Many women have taken time out from the workforce to care for their families, which also lowers their income, their savings and their Social Security benefits.
Social Security is the cornerstone of financial security
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Social Security to women. A quarter of women age 65 and older rely on Social Security for nearly all of their family income, and it keeps about a third of older women above the poverty line.
According to our survey, boomer women across party lines have very strong views about the importance of keeping Social Security strong — even as nearly half (43 percent) lack confidence that Social Security will be there when they retire. Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of boomer women say they would be hurt by future benefit cuts, and nearly three-quarters (71 percent) want the next president and Congress to take immediate action on Social Security.
A significant majority think it is important for the presidential candidates to talk about their plans for Social Security, but most feel they haven’t heard enough from either Secretary Clinton or Mr. Trump on this issue.
AARP, through our Take a Stand campaign, has been pressing the presidential candidates to give voters real answers about how they’ll keep Social Security strong so future generations get their promised benefits. The longer we wait, the more challenging it becomes to make the adjustments needed to keep the program strong.
Family caregiving is the new normal
Our survey found that more than half (55 percent) of boomer women are or have been family caregivers. They do the unpaid work taking care of loved ones with chronic health conditions or disabilities or who need additional help as they age, often while juggling full- or part-time jobs — and some are still raising kids.
Candidates should note that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the boomer women we surveyed said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who favors providing support for family caregivers. This isn’t a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. It’s a family issue.
Fortunately, caregiving is starting to get the political attention it deserves. It has emerged as a legislative issue in statehouses across America and, more recently, in Congress. And it is an issue that both presidential candidates have addressed:
- Secretary Clinton wants to provide a family caregiver tax credit and adjust how Social Security calculates benefits to take into account time spent out of the workforce on caregiving responsibilities.
- Mr. Trump also would provide tax relief for working family caregivers and a tax-preferred savings account that could be used for expenses related to caring for aging loved ones.
The AARP survey highlights an array of issues affecting women’s economic and retirement security that affect their outlook and will likely play into their voting decisions. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — and the candidates for the Senate and the House — have a golden opportunity to connect with boomer women on these economic security and family issues.
I hope they take it!
Nancy LeaMond, chief advocacy and engagement officer and executive vice president of AARP for community, state and national affairs, leads government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
You can follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond.