When I starting out in the world on my own in the late 1950s, there weren't many careers available to women. Our choices were mostly confined to waitress or office worker and, for the few who attended college, teacher or nurse.
The quip in those days about “girls” in college pursuing their MRS degree was more fact than joke and most left school or the workforce as soon as they married.
However, after the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963, set off the second wave of feminism, the “women's lib” movement took off with astonishing speed and today, large numbers of women are, as men have always been, doctors, lawyers and corporate chiefs.
No one can deny that women have come a long way, baby. Just not far enough and that, it has become evident, is particularly hard on elder, retired women.
As increasing numbers of cracks appear in the glass ceiling, pay equity between men and women in the same jobs has lagged dramatically. For as many years as I can recall, women have been paid about 77 cents for every dollar men earn.
(Some people dispute that figure, usually Republicans, and others say the gap is even larger. Whatever the number may be, no one argues that there is no pay gap.)
What that means for elder women is that because their earnings throughout their working years are lower so, then, is their Social Security benefit. In fact, reports the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM),
”In 2012, the average annual Social Security income received by women 65 years and older was only 76 percent of the benefit received by men ($12,520 compared to $16,398).”
One early morning last week, I attended a conference call sponsored by the NCPSSM announcing their new initiative called Eleanor's Hope.
It is named in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt who throughout her years as First Lady of the United States and for 17 years thereafter until she died in 1962, was a beacon of light to the world for so many social justice causes including that of women.
As NCPSSM president and CEO Max Richtman writes:
”The latest census reports that nearly 2.6 million elderly women are living in poverty and 733,000 of those live in extreme poverty. For women who live longer on lower benefits, America’s retirement crisis is very real.
“That’s why the financial protection Social Security provides is even more critical for the millions of women who depend on this vital program to keep them from poverty.”
Among the speakers during last week's conference call announcing Eleanor's Hope, were Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Gwen Moore, NOW president Terry O'Neill, and Franklin Roosevelt's grandson, James Roosevelt.
The goals of the initiative are ambitious – to recruit and train activists at the grassroots level, to support Congressional leaders who make a difference on women's retirement issues and to advocate for legislation that will improve women's health and wellbeing.
In that regard, Mr. Richtman lists these he says are among the proposals Eleanor's Hope intends to pursue:
- Provide Social Security credits for caregivers
- Improve Social Security survivor benefits
- Equalize Social Security’s rules for disabled widows
- Strengthen the Social Security Cost of Living Allowance
- Boost the basic Social Security benefit of all current and future beneficiaries
- Build on preventive care provisions in the Affordable Care Act and expanding coordination of care for beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions
- Generate greater savings on the cost of prescription drugs by increasing manufacturer discounts, allow Medicare to receive the same drug rebates as Medicaid for dual-eligibles, and promote lower drug costs by providing for faster development of generic drugs
And don't forget that we have midterm elections coming up in less than three weeks. Initiatives like Eleanor's Hope depend on electing the right kind of people to both local and national office.
You can sign a pledge at the Eleanor's Hope website to vote for the people who will make a difference.
And then, do it please on 4 November. We have come a long way in our lifetimes, but we're not there yet.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Sheiner: I Remember...