When women retire, yet another gap

Back in April of this year, I discussed Equal Pay Day and the sad reality that in the 21st century, women still aren’t paid at the same rate that men are for the same jobs. Here’s news that heightens our awareness of this pressing concern.

The National Institute on Retirement Security reports that women have substantially less income than men in retirement. In fact, women are 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished at age 65 or older. And those between the ages of 75 and 79 are three times more likely than men to be living in poverty.

While this does not mean that 80 percent of women definitely will be poor in retirement, the very likelihood should horrify all Americans, and particularly us, since 76 percent of NEA members are women.

Let’s consider the roots of this problem. Actually, it’s pretty simple.

Most estimates are that women working full time earn just 79 percent of what men earn – a pay gap of 21 percent. (For a lighthearted look at one young woman’s attempt to deal with this issue, check this out.) 

What’s more, women are living longer. A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that women live, on average, almost five years longer than men.  Less pay over the course of a woman’s working life plus a longer life span means women face a higher likelihood than men of spending retirement in poverty, or on the edge of it.

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A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute determined that in 2015, the typical woman was paid 83 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earned per hour.  That’s better, but the EPI still says that women’s wages could be 69 percent higher than they are now if the gender wage gap were eliminated once and for all.

This pay gap issue poses an extra hardship for single moms. Out of about 12 million single parent families in 2014, 83 percent were headed by single mothers.

The Fiscal Times offers precautionary tips to improve financial security for women, such as building a safety net and getting professional help to do so, if necessary. I agree that these steps are prudent life choices. But the answer isn’t simply figuring out ways to deal with a broken system; the solution is to fix the system.

Trying to offset the consequences of pay inequity is a partial solution. But women should not spend each day worrying about whether they will have sufficient incomes when they stop working. Women in their golden years should not have to choose between rent and food. Between food and medication. Between medication and rent.

These women are our grandmothers. Our aunts. Our sisters. And if we don’t do something about this trend, our daughters, too.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research predicts that women will finally receive pay on par with men by 2059. But that’s not soon enough.

President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 as one of his first orders of business in the White House. More remains to be done. To find out how you can help, here’s where you can get more information about equal pay.

Everyday events are what shape the future. We must take action together.

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