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Social Security and Women’s Economic Security

The Social Security program should be strengthened to support working women, explain the authors.

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idea light bulbAlthough women have made significant strides over the past several decades in leadership, labor-force participation, and educational advancement, they continue to face a disproportionate number of issues that impede their economic security. The most recent Census Bureau data show that the average woman working full time, year round earns 78 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterparts. Occupational differences, fewer work hours, interrupted employment histories, and the fact that women generally act as family caregivers largely drive this earnings gap. The lack of sensible workplace policies, such as paid family leave and paid sick days, further exacerbates the problem. Because the gender wage gap can lead to an estimated loss of more than $400,000 over the course of a 40-year career period, and because women tend to outlive their male counterparts, women are more susceptible to risks that often create economic insecurity in old age.

A gender gap in both earnings and access to private pension coverage means that, on average, women who have already reached retirement age have access to fewer resources than men. It should come as no surprise, then, that Social Security has played a key role in helping women and their families stay afloat. While men historically have been more likely to be insured through Social Security, women’s increasing labor-force participation has narrowed the gap considerably, particularly among younger workers. Nearly 90 percent of the population older than age 20—236 million individuals—were insured under the program in 2012, and about 61.9 million people received some type of benefit and assistance. In 2012, women made up 55 percent of adult beneficiaries as retirees, widows, disabled workers, and spouses of retirees and disabled workers.

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