Women over the age of 65 are twice as likely as men to live in poverty in retirement because of lower wages, more time spent out of the workforce and lack of access to retirement savings plans.
A report released last week by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, calls attention to these barriers and proposes policy solutions that would help overcome them.
Employers have a critical role to play in helping women save for retirement, and research suggests women are open to receiving information from their employers and more likely to take advantage of investment tools, programs and education when theyre offered.
And as competition for talent intensifies, offering women targeted retirement plan communications and guidance can become an important way for employers to differentiate themselves and attract women who are looking for these benefits.
Improving opportunity for workers to earn a secure retirement is critically important to strengthening the middle class and ensuring the economy works for all Americans, not just the wealthiest few, Murray said in a letter. Too many seniors today are spending their golden years scraping to make ends meet. Too many Americans nearing age 65 want to retire but are not financially able to stop working. And far too few younger Americans have the ability or the tools to save for their future. In short, our country is facing a retirement crisis.
This crisis affects women the most, she said.
Data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that the median IRA balance for men was nearly $13,000 higher than for women in 2013. Womens incomes also lagged behind men, with the median income at just 55% of what men made in 2013.
According to the Murray report, 11.6% of all women over the age of 65 live in poverty, compared to 6.8% for men. For those women who live alone, the poverty rate is 19% compared to 11.3% for men. The poverty rate among African American and Latino senior women is even higher with one-fifth of African American women and 23% of Latino women 65 and older living in poverty.
Several policies aimed at giving women a level playing field at work would go a long way toward boosting their retirement security, she said in her report.
Raising the minimum wage would help women and families make ends meet and also help close the wage gap between men and women, the report said. It also would help women better save for retirement and receive a bigger check from Social Security in the future.
She also encouraged employers to make quality child care affordable, give workers access to paid sick days and other basic worker protections and require fair scheduling practices to help boost workers economic stability and boost their ability to save for retirement.
Murray also believes that Social Security should be expanded and enhanced.
Congress should pass the Retirement and Income Security Enhancements Act, which would make targeted updates to Social Security to help senior men and women access more stable financial footing in retirement, the report said.
The Act, which was proposed in June 2014, would ensure widows and widowers from two-income families receive the same survivor benefits as those from single-earner families. For the surviving spouse, the alternative benefit would equal 75% of the sum of the survivors own worker benefit and the primary insurance amount of the deceased spouse, the report said. The legislation would also enhance benefits for divorced spouses by allowing those with less than 10 years of marriage to be eligible for benefits under the former spouses earnings.
Other items that would improve womens retirement security include expanding retirement plan eligibility for part-time workers, improving consumer protections, like requiring spousal consent to withdraw money from a retirement account, and increasing financial literacy.
Murray said that the country needs to explore policies that help women, particularly caregivers, earn a secure retirement benefit.
Leaving the workforce or reducing working hours to care for a family should not preclude women and caregivers from having a more secure retirement in the future, she said.
Paula Aven Gladych is a freelance writer based in Denver.
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