Happy 80th Birthday, Social Security! Now, how about ensuring your longevity by fixing the gender wage gap, family leave, minimum wage?
Hooray! Today (Aug. 14, 2015) is the 80th anniversary of the day when FDR signed the Social Security Act into law!
Over the last 80 years, Social Security–the program itself and the benefits it provides–has become embedded in the very fabric of American society. We love it. Always have, probably always will.
Right now, it’s baby boomers who are particularly feeling the love for their Social Security enrollments. Boomers are now reaching that age where they’re retiring, and starting to cash in on their hard-earned Social Security retirement benefits. This is especially true for women. But now, as this large section of the population collectively moves into retirement, American politicians are having a conversation about what will happen to Social Security as its cash stores get depleted. Some are asking, how will it last another 80 years? The people in charge are pretty sure they can pay all scheduled benefits through 2034. And while few will deny the fact that we need to make some changes to Social Security in order to keep it functional and viable for generations to come, how to have that conversation about a program that is so deeply beloved is a bit of a tricky situation.
To be honest, as long as we’re going with the ‘birthday’ theme, it’s kind of a bummer to have to sit around and practically question Social Security’s solvency. It’s like saying, “Happy 50th birthday, Mom! Will you even make it 50 more?” So instead, we can discuss ways to keep the Social Security spirit alive. Some of the more popular proposals to continue Social Security involve cuts to the program, favoring longevity over immediate efficacy. For example, in 2013, President Obama almost compromised with Republicans on cuts to social security. The bargain was deeply unpopular, so luckily that ended up falling apart. Due to deep partisan gridlock, cuts to Social Security are an unlikely fix; so, perhaps it’s time to think outside of the box. Here are a few policy solutions that will help keep Social Security alive.
1. Close the gender wage gap
Nearly 60% of Social Security recipients are women, who face much greater economic and retirement insecurity than men. Caused by the gender wage gap, women tend to earn less over their lifetime than men, have lower savings, and have lower participation rates in 401(k) plans. As a result, women as a group have to rely more heavily on Social Security benefits than men, and they do so for longer. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act, completely gets it:
“Unequal pay has had a profound impact on women’s economic security, and that includes their retirement security. Women live longer and are much more reliant on Social Security because of lost wages over a lifetime.”
2. Adopt paid family leave
Another reason women rely so much on Social Security: they have children, and tend to bear more of the responsibility for child-rearing than men. Women are more likely than men to leave the workforce to have and raise children, or to care for a family member. And that’s totally okay, but it’s a gender disparity that ought to be accounted for. Even if the leave of absence from work is only temporary, there can be permanent impacts. Leaving work to raise a child can mean months of lost wages, or even lost opportunities for promotion. To make it worse, women who leave the workforce often have a very difficult time finding an equivalent or better job when they return. The wages lost contribute to a woman’s eventual dependence of Social Security in retirement. What can Congress do? Consider passing Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which would grant 12 weeks of paid leave to men and women, wage earners and salaried employees.
3. Raise the minimum wage
Not only do women experience a gender wage gap, they’re also much more likely to be getting paid the minimum wage– or as Sen. Bernie Sanders calls it, the “starvation wage.” Two thirds of minimum wage workers are women, the majority of these women being women of color. Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10/hour would close the wage gap by 5%! FIVE PERCENT, just like that! Not to mention, raising the minimum wage would increase wages for 4.8 million working mothers. There’s a lot that tells us how raising the minimum wage is really good for Social Security across the board.
One final point: While Republicans and Democrats in Congress argue about how to cut social security, or ways to adjust the Social Security Act, it looks like there are a few policy proposals already out there that would help millions of Americans right away, and contribute to keeping Social Security alive in the long run.