We all face risks to our economic security throughout our lifetime including loss of wages, outliving one’s savings in retirement, and high health care costs at any age. In the US, we claim to meet these and other personal disasters through various social insurance programs – including the Social Security Act of 1935.
According to various scholars, the Act was the “foundation on which modern social welfare policy rests.” If so, why has there been endless attempts to cut Social Security benefits through the years? What deeply resentful and long-held attitudes do Americans have about the social safety net? I’m in one of those nets myself and wondered how many holes were in mine and decided to look.
I went back to my own “Your Social Security Statement” from 2005 and looked at “Your Earnings Record at a Glance.” Let’s start with my work history. From 1964 until1972 I was a stay-at-home mom and raised two daughters. This shows up as a string of zeros on my Social Security report. (With apologies to the ex-husband)
So, women who are home and raise kids, even though there is no employer involved, are NOT entitled to be considered essential workers by the government?
Could Congress and others not see their way to treating this as a worthy contribution to the nation and throwing in some Social Security credits?
I remember a time in the 1980s when “just a housewife” was worthy of wearing a Scarlet H around town. Hopefully, working women who took that attitude have seen the elitism of their ways. And now, here we are in 2020: more moms can’t go to work due to the pandemic, are recently unemployed, their small businesses have gone bust, and/or there’s no one to take care of the kids who are at home learning remotely. How will they be able to make these years up for retirement income as Social Security?
When I went back to college so that I could get into the workforce again, 2 more years of 0s was my reward. So, again, people who are trying to better their prospects no matter at what post-high school level get zeros for their efforts?
And if you look at today’s reality, students can be deep in debt, have poor or no job prospects, and back living with mom and dad.
Okay – I went back to college not quite that long ago!
Here’s another factor that is so sexist it’s hard to believe that this is “expert advice” I found on some Tips website. Social Security benefits are based on the amount of income you earned during your working life. So if you never had a paid job—like my mom—or if you earned less than the minimum qualifying amount over your lifetime, does that mean you can never have Social Security benefits?
Not necessarily – thanks to the spousal benefits option. This gives a whole new possibility for older ladies to get into online dating – before it’s too late. Get that guy or gal and get hitched! Then you can get half of what they earned – problem solved!
Once you hit age 62, if your spouse is currently receiving either retirement or disability benefits from Social Security, you too can receive benefits — up to one-half your spouse’s benefits (not including delayed retirement credits). If you earn Social Security benefits on your own but the amount of your benefits is less than one-half your spouse’s retirement benefits, you can receive additional spousal benefits to bring you up to the one-half limit.
In case you missed it – one-half is good enough for women – more than 50% of the population and generally live longer than men. We are closer to 1935 in our view of women, what’s fair, economic equity of any kind (think still around 70 cents on the dollar in wages), and more minimum wage service jobs are held by women.
I believe that all of us are worthy of a safety net– not just the people you like, who voted for you, or match your idea of a “deserving person.”
This one speaks for itself. The nation’s 65 million Social Security recipients may be in for a disappointment in 2021—the program’s annual cost-of-living increase will be 1.3%. That would be among the stingiest hikes in government retirement benefits, which have lost nearly a third of their buying power since 2000, according to the non-partisan Senior Citizens League.
Because Social Security increases aren’t keeping up with seniors’ actual costs, the benefits have lost 30% of their buying power since 2000, the group said. It would also represent one of the program’s smallest-ever increases, following a meager 0.3% increase in 2016 and three years of no increases in 2009, 2010 and 2015, according to the Social Security Administration. And, because many seniors have Medicare costs deducted from their Social Security checks, the boost in health care expenses will effectively wipe out their Social Security cost-of-living increase.
If you made it to the end of this post, thank you for bearing with me. What I stumbled into was discouraging and lit up my this is so unfair lights – as usual.
By chance—looking for a break—I was reading Ann Tyler’s latest novel The Redhead by the Side of the Road and found this line I want to share to end on a bit of an up note:
This is the thought of Micah the main character who was the baby of the family and has lots of sisters: Women kept the world running, really. (There was a definite difference between “running the world” and “keeping it running.”)
Indeed we do and we do it for half price!
Photo credits: Equality – Sharon McCutcheon, Doing Something Great – Clark Tibbs, Jar of Pennies – Michael Longmire all from Unsplash.com. The ladies in the library – historical and free to use, Me, the kids and the ex – some photo joint where you put on vintage clothes and feel itchy and ridiculous honoring the patriarch.
Great work, Barbara. For somebody like myself, who do NOT get half of my late husband’s share, because back in the early eighties, President Reagan and some Democratic collaborators were credited with “fixing Social Security” by deciding that a person who had an earned retirement, would be committing the sin of “double-dipping” if he/she were to draw h/er personal pension and h/er widow’s pension that h/she had also paid into throughout h/er working life.
Hi Catherine. Thanks so much for continuing to comment – it’s lonely out here in blog land! Ah, yes – that terrible double-dipping. And the early 80s when the social safety net – living wages, retirement benefits, childcare…. a long list was exchanged for large military budgets, corporate bonanzas, and the working class just a bunch of losers! It’s been institutionalized by both parties. My latest proof – Congress going on vacation while their constituents lose jobs, housing, income, so-called benefits. Sorry for the rant!
Thanks Barbara for laying it all out, depressing statistics for sure. We do hope for a change in administration but I haven’t seen much real discussion of changed spending priorities or taxation.
Thanks for reading and commenting – always love to hear from you. If I said this on Twitter I would probably be doxxed by my “sisters” but I do wish they had spent less time making pussy hats and more working on the real issues Congress is only too happy to not have to talk about or fix. Last time I looked, there were women in the House and the Senate!
Although in some circles my opinions might qualify me as an alien from a foreign land, might I be permitted to state them anyway?
Moral vs Rational
Although I cannot put my finger on the exact text, I’m pretty sure Adam Smith in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759) thought that people have a natural tendency to care about the well-being of others for no other reason than the pleasure one gets from seeing them happy. This has been especially true of women down through the ages as they care for their children (and by extension) their households without getting paid. But it also explains why people to give to charities and why governments provide for the welfare of their citizens.
On the other hand, Social Security is a scheme that tends to follow Adam Smith’s more rational thinking as expressed in “The Wealth of Nations” (1776). At its most basic, Smith discussed a rational exchange of goods or services between people. Social Security seems to be an insurance system built mostly on this idea. Benefits are (more or less) based on what has been paid into the system.
Moving from Rational to Moral:
If we as a society want to provide for (mostly) elderly women who have engaged in unpaid work throughout their lives, we can. But for that to happen, we will probably have to either rethink Social Security or develop a parallel Unpaid Worker Security System. In either case we will need to find sufficient funding (i.e. additional taxes) to pay for the additional benefits.
Not everyone will agree with me. But I do hope these opinions are not so outrageous as to get me kicked off your blog.
You are always welcome to comment – look forward to them. A couple of quibbles, if I may. I believe moral and rational don’t need to be at odds. I don’t see charities as the way to support the basics needed for women (and men) to live a good life. It’s, as you say, the government’s role to do this – which it doesn’t right now – not for women, for the working class, for the rural poor, the homeless, and the unemployed. My forever response to finding the funding – how is it that the military budget gets even more than asked for yet every time a social need is put forward, we talk about taxes? Thanks for your perspective, as always.
Great post Barbara!
I wish it weren’t all true but it’s a bit amazing to see the facts laid out like they are. I’ve got exactly 8 months until I can grab that teeny tiny check due to my years of low-income jobs. But at least it will pay for the medicare. Leaning into Tuesday with hope beyond hope that we can turn our country around.
Hi Molly, So good to see your comment. The “event” in 8 months is worth these days a cupcake rather than a celebratory cake! As for turning things around, we’ll see if there is the political will.
I often come back to what Mother Jones (a woman, of course) said to a union meeting of miners: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”