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.

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