“Social Security: Is a Key Foundation Economic Security Working for Women?”

A Senate Finance Committee hearing with this title was held in December of 2014. It’s interesting that the title of this hearing was posed in a question. It appears, unfortunately, the answer to this question is there’s room for improvement.

As one of the speakers mentioned, while Social Security is gender neutral, life is not. Women receive lower salaries across all industries due to pay disparities with men (attempts to pass Equal Pay legislation has been repeatedly thwarted by Republicans). Because the amount one receives in Social Security is determined by the level of pay and FICA taxes paid, women often receive lower benefit amounts than men who performed the same work.

Women more often have careers interrupted to care for children and other relatives. This fact also means an eventual lower benefit amount (or even a complete inability to draw disability benefits due to a lack of insured status). Lastly, women tend to have fewer retirement savings and higher life expectancies than men, thus making Social Security benefits even more important.

Numerous policy suggestions were given at this hearing. One idea, in particular, makes the most sense: allow caregivers to earn qualifying Social Security credits. All politicians preach the importance of “family values.” What better way to support this view than to not punish individuals who leave the workforce to raise a young child or care for an elderly parent? Unfortunately, in the current climate where all talk of Social Security “reform” centers on cutting benefits, such a proposal has no current chance of becoming law.

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