Social Security’s a Vital Lifeline for Older Women

The Alan Simpsons and John Boehners of the world talk about raising the retirement age and cutting Social Security benefits for “greedy geezers.” If they have their way and the federal budget deficit commission—of which Simpson is co-chairman—ends up recommending raising the retirement age, cutting benefits or even privatizing Social Security, women will be the hardest hit.

Here are some sobering statistics from Retirement USA and the Social Security Administration (SSA) that show just how vital Social Security is to older women.

The estimated income that older Americans need to meet basic needs, depending on homeowner status, is between $16,163 and $20,869, according to the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index.

But half the women ages 65 and older have an annual income of less than $14,429 (men’s median income is $25,344). On top of that, 11 percent of women 65 years and older live below the federal poverty line of $10,326 for single persons ages 65 and older. That is well below what is necessary to meet basic needs.

Unlike Simpson, who receives a hefty government-paid congressional pension check each month, the average “greedy” female “geezer” receives $12,012 a year in Social Security benefits. The average benefit for men is $15,588.  Keep in mind that’s not free money. It represents what we put into Social Security over a lifetime of work—and for women, a lifetime of work earning less than men, too. Not exactly “milking” the system, as Simpson rants about seniors.

In 2008, 46 percent of all unmarried females receiving Social Security benefits relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. Only 23 percent also received private pension benefits along with their Social Security benefits.

How can the politicians and pundits attacking Social Security make such ridiculous claims or even begin to think about cutting benefits?  Richard Abrams, a Social Security expert at the University of California, Berkeley, has a darn sound explanation. He told Newsweek’s Ben Adler:

These guys are somewhat not in touch with the real world. They live in a somewhat isolated world. They are very wealthy and are not attuned to the needs of working people. Simpson is long out of the days when he has had to earn money from outside the government.

Abrams compares Simpson’s canard of seniors “milking” Social Security to Ronald Reagan’s apocryphal Cadillac-driving welfare queen.

The commission will make its recommendations to the president and Congress in December. Congressional supporters of strengthening Social Security are gearing up for a fight.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is proposing a resolution to stop raising the retirement age. Also, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is circulating a letter to be sent to the president opposing privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age and cutting benefits.

Click here to go to the Alliance for Retired Americans and send a letter to your member of Congress urging them to co-sponsor the Giffords resolution and sign the Grijalva letter.

This blog entry was written by Mike Hall of the AFL-CIO and is cross-posted on the AFL-CIO's NOW Blog.

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