To Reclaim the Word “Old”
Beer and Billiards for Healthy Aging

Elder Women and Eleanor's Hope

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

Definitely ambitious which is a good reason to support it. You can do that by finding out more at the Eleanor's Hope website. By learning more about the gender wage gap here [pdf].

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...


Do not forget that persons 65 and older are eligible for absentee ballots and early voting! If you have not received your application by mail, call your election board. I received my ballot within a week, which included clear directions and a stamped envelope! Do it!

Stephanie, I got my absentee ballot last week and have already voted. Now I just hope it gets counted.

Betty Friedan certainly changed the culture. This is a shining example of what one person can do. When we say things like "my vote doesn't count" or "I am just one person" we should remember her.

Unfortunately, the job isn't finished. Single mother's raising children is one of the worst consequences of the wage gap. Children cost just as much for a woman to raise as they do a man, but with only 3/4 of the income it is a terrible struggle for many.

Call me a pessimist--- We will never arrive---

But, But--men have wives and daughters --why don't they rise up and help us?

I think human nature being what it is-- they don't want to rock the boat too much as they might lose their part of the pie.

So--at least changing the approach to helping old women -- their wives, mothers, daughters -- could maybe give us some equality at the end.

Yes, mam.

Thanks for calling attention to Eleanor's Hope. I love the list of things they are pursuing, especially the S.S. credit for caregivers.

On a side note, when I was in college I actually had a guidance counselor tell me I couldn't peruse a career in architecture because it would take a place in the program away from a guy and "girls only go to college for their MRS degrees anyway." I was young and stupid and didn't fight for myself. If I have any regrets in life that could be at the top of the list.

Good initiative. Hope we can make it work.

But I also feel I have to say this here: the National Committee to Preserve Social Security sends out too many, too elaborate, direct mail packages to those of us who support their work. It feels as they didn't think elders would remember them if they don't beat us over the head. The volume and apparently cost is even greater than appeals that the environmental groups send.

It's not only lower pay that results in lower SS benefits. Women frequently take years off from work to raise children, and/or pursue part-time, low-paying, sporadic employment that results in less total earnings thus less SS benefits.

My experience--going to a university after high school and getting two technical degrees--has paid off with better job options and higher pay all my life.

By the time my daughter graduated from high school, the idea of the "Mrs. Degree" seemed to have become obsolete. She got a fine education and now has an exciting job.

I make more SS than either of my husbands, and I retired early following a stroke...and not on disability either.

I owe whatever I have to hard work, lots of schooling, and saving for a rainy day,. I.e. busting my behind in school and at work, and delayed gratification. True, the choices were thin when I was younger, but everything improved after that. Education still makes a huge difference as well as other gender specific factors.

I already voted. I also work the election board.

I just lost a 3-paragraph response--d&*#! It simply evaporated for some reason--I must have hit the wrong key. Oh well, it probably wasn't worth it anyway.

Another problem with retirement pay: windfall elimination provision. Although I worked many years and paid into social security, because I have a teacher's pension, my social security will be cut. That is just not fair.

This post was a reminder that we women have come a long way, even if we are not quite "there" yet. For one thing, it reminded me of the PHT (Putting Hubby Through) degree that was, in all seriousness, given in a ceremony to women who were the family breadwinners and wives and baby-makers of the men (including my then husband) who were going to college on the G.I. bill back in the long ago fifties. For me, personally, it was insulting and I declined to participate but this little show of woman's "place" actually originated with the women themselves. Of course it took me too long to realize that all along it was I who should have been going to college so I was late out of the starting gate. But I made up for it through hard work and just plain being better than the men who were my competition. No offense, guys.

Elizabeth, that has happened to me too many times and I can tell you that I use far worse language than you did to vent my frustration. Meg

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