Friday, July 31, 2009

Happy 44th Birthday to Medicare!

This week, we celebrate the 44th birthday of Medicare. Over the past four decades, the program has provided millions of elders with health care coverage. It is important that Medicare be strengthened to meet the needs of all Americans in their later years.

Opportunities to strengthen Medicare include the following:

  • Placing a limit on catastrophic expenses
  • Closing coverage gaps, such as through the Medicare Part D doughnut hole
  • Expanding to younger populations, such as through a buy-in option

Data on what it takes elders to make ends meet in their communities, that looks at health and long-term care expenses, is now available through the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index.

For more information, be sure to read WOW’s press statement on this commemorative week!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Action Alert: Low-Income Families in DC are at Risk - We Need Your Support

As the DC budget process unfolds, Mayor Fenty is proposing to keep the budget balanced by cutting funds to assist struggling families through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Rather than incentivize families to move toward work, the new penalties are likely to push at-risk families into even more dire circumstances, such as homelessness. Currently a family of three receives a TANF grant of $428.00 per month; the Mayor's proposal could result in terminating all support for these families if a parent fails to meet a work requirement without considering the families individual situation.

Why should aging advocates be concerned? Ensuring economic security across the lifespan requires protecting access to income supports for vulnerable families and elders. The proposed TANF cuts in Washington DC would impact the ability of working families to meet today’s basic needs and lend to increased economic vulnerability in late life. We need your help in telling the Mayor how crucial TANF is to so many in the DC area and how his proposal will ultimately hurt his low-income constituents, today and in the future. In these tough economic times, it is important for low-income women and their families to have access to services and supports that will put them on a pathway to economic security.

Support efforts to protect TANF benefits for Washington DC residents by:

1) Adding your organization to a sign-on letter that tells the Mayor why his proposal needs to be revised. Contact Katie Kerstetter ( by noon on July 29th to sign-on.

2) Attending a meeting with Council Staff on July 29that 1 p.m. in the lobby of the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington, DC.

3) Signing-on to an online petition organized by Save our Safety Net.

4) Spreading the word and sharing this pertinent information with your professional and social networks.

Thank you!

Questions? Please contact Debbie Billet-Roumell at or call 202-464-1596.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Older American Entrepreneurs

In the economic downturn, unemployment is on the rise, but so is entrepreneurship. According to a new study released by the Kaufmann Foundation last month, older adults age 55-64 have the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity. Older workers are using their skills to create small businesses to generate income.

Many workers are working longer to meet their financial needs. The Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index can serve as a useful financial planning tool for both older adults who want to know what it costs in their communities to get by, and also for younger generations as they look ahead to retirement.

Small businesses are a vital player in our nation’s economy and it will be exciting to see the new products and opportunities that become available due to the innovative ideas of older workers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Balancing Work, Family Life, and Retirement in Russia: Part 4

Alla, our Elder Economic Security Initiative intern, wraps up her series on economic security in Russia by focusing on elder economic security in the country. Thanks to Alla for her hard work in putting together this series of posts.

IV. Implementing Elder Economic Security in Russia

Assuring elder economic security is one of the most problematic social issues in Russia. The very concept of retirement has transformed dramatically over the turbulent decade of 1990s. During the Soviet times, small fixed pensions were paid to elders by the federal government; no personal retirement plans existed. It was neither a perceived need nor a social norm to plan a retirement in the Soviet Union.

Nowadays, it is slowly becoming a norm to plan for retirement. The tradition is far from being fully established, but contemporary working adults often have employer-based retirement savings plans that are meant to secure their ability to age with dignity. However, many present-day Russian elders whose working years were during the Soviet era still rely on meager federal pensions that oftentimes do not even cover their minimal expenses – that is, they fall under the Russian analogue of the Federal Poverty Level despite the government’s attempts to increase pensions.

Thus, the situation in Russia is in a sense very similar to that of the United States as far as older adults are concerned. In the United States, Social Security provides more than 90 percent of income to three out of ten retired elders; in Russia, these numbers are similar, but are likely to be even higher. Moreover, unlike in the United States, where Social Security payments were never intended to be the sole source of income for seniors, no alternative options were provided for in Soviet Russia. However, when retirement plans were first introduced after the collapse of the Soviet Union, no organized federal attempt was made to assure the well-being of seniors who worked during the Soviet times and thus were not enrolled in any kind of retirement savings plan.

Overall, achieving a healthy balance between motherhood and employment, as well as planning a retirement, are the fledgling areas of social policy in Russia. While there traditionally have been efforts to equalize working conditions and promote equal economic security for men and women, rapid social and political changes of the 1990s swept away the old Soviet social system, and the new Russian social system remains to be established and refined.

As the attempts to implement Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standards illustrate, there is much to be learned from Family Self-Sufficiency and Elder Economic Security frameworks developed by Wider Opportunities for Women, as such frameworks provide individuals, advocates, and policymakers with reliable information and serve as a much needed measuring tool.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Elder Economic Security Initiative Launched in Michigan

We are pleased to announce that the Elder Economic Security Initiative launched this week in Michigan! We released the Elder Economic Security Standard Index, which provides county-by-county data of what it takes for elders throughout the state to make ends meet.

Click here to view TV coverage of the press event!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Balancing Work, Family Life, and Retirement in Russia: Part 3

III. Implementing Family Self-Sufficiency in Russia

Currently, there are ongoing attempts to implement the equivalent of WOW’s Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard in Russia. The Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard (FESS) provides a geographically-based measure of what it takes for families to make ends meet. It was developed in the United States to help working adults calculate how much money they need to meet their basic needs without subsidies of any kind. In Russia, self-sufficiency standards can be used for the same purpose: to provide working adults with information and assistance as to how to plan their budget; moreover, self-sufficiency standards can be used as a guideline for government to measure income adequacy and estimate the real number of individuals and families in poverty.

Record-keeping and statistics are not very developed throughout Russia, which makes it difficult to do the appropriate calculations and establish truly geographically-based standards for the huge territory of the country. As a result, for the time being, implementation of Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard is confined to the capital of Russia, Moscow City.
This approach has certain advantages, such as availability and relatively easy access to needed data. The Moscow City project is a promising start for data collection and analysis, but truly workable self-sufficiency standards should reflect cost variations across geographic regions outside of the Russia’s urban center. Moscow City is the financial, economical, and political capital of Russia as well as the country’s largest city by far and, thus, not representative of Russia as a whole.

In Russia, minimum budgets (analogous to the U.S. Federal Poverty Levels) only measure the needs of single adults living independently; they do not take into account family living and joint spending. The Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standards in Moscow City distinguish between minimum and typical budgets, where minimum budget is mainly usable for low-income population as it only provides minimal satisfaction of basic needs, while typical budget ensures normal fulfillment of basic needs at the lower middle-class level. Typical budget is what is proposed to use as a Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard. For Moscow City in 2006, minimum budget was 5,000 rubles (roughly $156) per month per person, whereas self-sufficiency standard was calculated as 12,000 rubles (roughly $376) – that is, more than twice as much as minimum budget.

The project to collect these data was sponsored by Moscow City government, which signifies that the government is prepared to use this information in policymaking. Additionally, data have been shared with a number of bureaus and organizations so that this information can be used for lobbying and advocacy. Again, while this is a very encouraging start, much more research and work is needed to really bring the concept of economic self-sufficiency to Russia.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Struggles of the Woman Caregiver

Read below a blog post authored by our Elder Economic Security Initiative intern, Kristen, on the important topic of caregiving.

Today is the final day of the Fem 2.0 Blogging Carnival on caregiving. This gives organizations, like WOW, a chance to discuss what caregiving is, what role it plays in women’s lives, and what needs to be done to adequately support our nation’s caregivers. As caregiving responsibilities overwhelmingly fall on women, WOW is invested in the need for its recognition as essential work.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently 52 million caregivers nationwide caring for people 20+ that are ill or disabled. Women overwhelmingly assume these roles, comprising between 59% and 75% of caregivers. Caregiving can take a significant financial, emotional and physical toll on those who provide it. On the financial side, many caregivers jeopardize their working lives, and thus their economic security, by working fewer hours, passing on promotions, or leaving the workforce entirely. Few policies or programs are in place to address these challenges.
Here are some measures to facilitate ensuring the economic security of family caregivers:

· Promote flexible work environments with paid sick and safe days to allow for time to be taken off to care for oneself or a dependent relative. Just a little over half of all caregivers remain employed, so job sharing and flexible hours can make juggling work and caregiving more feasible.
· Support the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act of 2009 (H.R. 769). Under the bill, people who provide informal care for 80+ hours per month will receive credit towards Social Security benefits for up to 5 years.

Compensating caregivers is especially important for women to achieve economic security because, in addition to leaving the workforce to provide caregiving, women live longer than men and receive lower wages. As a result, a significant proportion of women are completely reliant on Social Security in retirement.

The national averages of the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index) show that Social Security alone is not enough for seniors to make ends meet, although it provides more than 90 percent of income to three out of ten retired elders. For single older women who own their home and have paid off their mortgage, the average Social Security income provides only about 60% of the income needed to reach economic security, and if a woman must rent, Social Security covers just 47% of their needs, according to the Elder Index.

Family caregiving must be recognized by our government and employers as essential work that should be compensated in order to improve women’s chances for economic security throughout their lives.

To learn more about family caregivers in the United States, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What is the CLASS Act?

As the health care reform debate heats up on Capitol Hill, WOW wants to make sure the final piece of legislation is one that benefits women, their families, and elders. The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act of 2009 is one proposed bill being pushed to the health care reform agenda. The CLASS Act would today’s workers afford home and community-based long-term care (LTC) services as they age . It would set up a LTC insurance program for workers to pay into so that when they get older and require assistance, affordable LTC services would be available to them in their home.

According to the Elder Index, LTC costs can double, and even triple an elder’s monthly expenses, moving them further away from economic security, particularly if they cannot already or are barely making ends meet. Implementation of the CLASS Act will cover one quarter to one half of the cost of home and community-based services, allowing elders to age in place in their homes and communities. Employees would donate $30 a month to individual LTC “accounts” and this money would be put aside until their later years.

Currently, elders that need LTC services must pay out-of-pocket. In some instances, Medicare will pay for short-term rehabilitative services. Most elders, however, will be forced to spend down any available assets or income in order to qualify for services under Medicaid. Furthermore, the majority of Medicaid-funded services are available only in institutions, not in people’s homes. This process of spending down into poverty, and into nursing homes, can be prevented with added supports in place to assist in the high costs of LTC.

The Obama Administration expressed support for including the CLASS Act in broader health care reform this week, and we look forward to advocating for its inclusion on Capitol Hill so that future elders can find it a bit easier to make ends meet.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Balancing Work, Family Life, and Retirement in Russia: Part 2

Alla, our Elder Economic Security Initiative intern continues her series on Russia's economic security, focusing this week on women.

II. Women In Today's Russia

After 2000, when transition to capitalism was more or less complete, and Russia’s economic situation improved, Russian women began choosing to have children somewhat later in life in order to start building a career first. Surveys show that modern Russian women overwhelmingly prefer combining their career with raising children than concentrating on just one or the other. Therefore, in recent years, the number of working mothers of young children has consistently grown in Russia. This is, especially prevalent in big cities such as Moscow where women are highly educated. An estimated 57% of Moscow City mothers of preschool age children have at least some college education.

Working mothers still enjoy strong protection under the law, which guarantees partially paid 18-month childbirth-related leave (extendable up to 3 years of unpaid leave). Sadly, not all employers follow the law. Russian women often face discrimination and negative stereotypes at the workplace, comparable to that experienced by women over the course of many decades in the United States. The social institutions established by Soviet system that protected working mothers are now in decay, and there are very few new institutions to replace them.
The category of working mothers has become as crucial in Russia as it is in the United States. However, while employment laws are more generous to women in Russia, the actual mechanisms for implementation of these laws are far less developed in Russia as compared to the United States.

Even so, more ought to be done to assure workplaces are flexible and responsive to working mother’s needs, such as through paid family leave and part-time or flexible work options, in both Russia and the U.S. Making sure working women are able to balance work and family responsibilities is critical to assuring their economic security over the life span. Women are likely to cycle in and out of the workplace due to care-giving responsibilities, lending to fewer hours worked, lower wages and less opportunities for career growth and mobility. Promoting work life balance and economic security across the generations goes hand in hand.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Balancing Work, Family Life, and Retirement in Russia: Part 1

Our Economic Security Initiative intern, Alla, will be a guest blogger for the next four weeks. As a native of Russia, she will be sharing her thoughts on economic security in Russia across generations. Here is her first post introducing the role of women in Russia. Look for her subsequent posts each Wednesday.

Women in Russia: Soviet Background

One of the most recognized features of the Russian social system is that it is based on the remnants of the Soviet system. After the Revolution of 1917, Russia became one of the first countries in the world to declare the equality of both sexes; moreover, Russia was the first country to start implementing social policies that sought to establish equal conditions and opportunities for women.

During the Soviet period, employment rates among women were close to 100%; this was made possible by a federally funded social system with generous employee benefits (such as paid sick and family leaves) and universal provision of public institutions, such as schools and pre-school organizations. However, things have changed dramatically since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Throughout the 1990’s, due to Russia’s painful transition from a socialist to a capitalist economy, unemployment rates were high and economic insecurity was severe for both men and women.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was a major social upheaval that substantially shaped the state of Russia’s modern-day society. This makes it difficult to compare present-day Russia to the United States. Nevertheless, fascinating similarities surface, particularly concerning women’s issues and intergenerational economic security.

This post marks the first a four-part series exploring how issues related to the workplace flexibility, family self-sufficiency and elder economic security play out in Russia’s political and social systems and how WOW’s efforts to promote economic security across the generations is impacting policy conversations internationally.