Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays from WOW!

The WOW office will be closed from December 27-31. We look forward to working with you in the new year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Importance of Preparing for Long-Term Care Costs

This week, the Elder Economic Security Initiative™ team met with our National Advisory Board to update them on the project and discuss goals for the New Year. Long-term care (LTC) and the importance of preparing future generations for the high costs of aging in place was a major component of the conversation, and, it turns out, in conversations throughout the country. Newsday recently featured the article “We can Avoid an Eldercare Crisis” which encourages Baby Boomers in particular to find ways to save for long-term care now before it’s too late. It also explains how to prevent future elders from depending on Medicaid, which provides benefits to low-income elders unable to pay for care. Medicaid eligibility requirements require those elders living on the edge to spend down their assets in order to qualify.

WOW’s Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index) shows just how important it is to plan ahead. Depending on the level of care, LTC costs can double or even triple what it costs for an elder to meet her basic expenses. For example, in Bronx County, NY, an elder woman renter in good health needs $23, 328 a year to cover basic living expenses. This cost changes dramatically if she is in poor health and needs 16 hours a week of LTC assistance (a medium level of care); her annual expenses would nearly double to over $43,500.

Hence the need for a program to help Americans save for these high costs of care and the reasoning behind the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act – signed into law under health care reform. This program will allow workers to pay in to a government supported system and after five years of investment receive a daily cash benefit to supplement long-term care costs. This program will not only benefit elders but people of all ages who need assistance due to physical disabilities. Find out more about the program’s benefits at the New Old Age blog.

The reality is that long-term care is necessary for millions of elders in retirement and though many might not want to think about getting older, we must not only think but act. Through advanced planning and good decision making future retirees can save for their long-term care needs.

Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Friday, December 10, 2010

New Study Shows Half of Seniors May Experience Poverty

Nearly half of all elders between 60 and 90 will experience one year of poverty, according to a study released this week in Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services.

“Of course, this risk is not evenly distributed across the population. One of the most drastic economic divides is race,” notes the researcher, Mark R. Rank, Ph.D. The percentages of people who will experience at least one year below the federal poverty level by different demographic groups include:

• Race: 32.7% of white older Americans; 64.6% of black older Americans

• Marital Status: 51.2% of unmarried older Americans; 24.9% of married older Americans

• Education: 48.4% of those with fewer than 12 years of education; 20.5% for those with 12 or more years of education

This new research confirms the importance of the Elder Economic Security Initiative and the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index). A comparison of the Elder Index to other measures of income (shown in the chart below) makes its relevance clear. Average annual Social Security income provides an older woman renter with only 61% of the income required to achieve economic security, compared to 81% for an older man.

The data shown by the Elder Index and the new report on elder poverty demonstrate the need to increase the benefit adequacy for Social Security recipients and to increase access to income support programs for seniors. Dr. Rank notes “legislators should consider policies that encourage greater levels of savings among the working-age population, facilitating cooperative living arrangements among the elderly, establishing fair terms with respect to reverse mortgage programs, and strengthening the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs.”

The time to act is now. Join your state’s Elder Economic Security Initiative to help rid poverty among our nation’s elders. The Initiative is currently active in 17 states; find out if your state is one of them.

Maggie Flowers
Field Manager
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Caring for the Caregiver

As National Family Caregivers Month comes to an end, WOW thanks caregivers across the country whose work makes it possible for millions of elders and persons with disabilities to live with dignity in their homes and communities. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, 22 million Americans care for someone over the age of 50 and 60% of caregivers are women. Caregiving is essential to allowing many elders to age in place and the value of informal care that women provide ranges from $148 to $188 billion annually.

Informal caregiving, though necessary, can be detrimental to the economic security of women and their families. Many caregivers find themselves cycling in and out of the workforce, which limits their income both now and in the future. One-third of working women decrease their work hours when taking on caregiving responsibilities and almost 30% pass up a job promotion, training or assignment. Each of these examples explains the tough choices caregivers have to make and highlights the need for additional caregiver support systems. WOW supports allowing full-time caretakers to receive Social Security credits to increase their benefits in retirement as a step in the right direction. Currently, caretakers receive no credits when out of the workforce, which results in a smaller Social Security benefit in retirement.

Caregiving can be a daunting task and while there is more that needs to be done, current resources and networks strive to make caregiving easier for millions of Americans.

Caregiver Community Action Network

Top 10 Questions about Family Caregiving

Financial Help and Advice for Caregivers

Take time today to thank a caregiver you know for all they do.

Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dispelling the Wage Gap Myths – Paycheck Fairness Is Not a Woman-Only Issue

It is disappointing that the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) failed to pass a procedural vote this week to end the filibuster and bring it to the floor, 58-41 (60 votes were needed). Almost as disappointing are the arguments that we don’t need laws like these anymore or that the PFA would hurt men or that the wage gap doesn’t even exist anymore.

The Paycheck Fairness Act was not a law that tried to pit men against women or give women special treatment. Among its provisions, the PFA would have put gender discrimination on equal footing with other forms of discrimination such as race, disability or age by allowing women to sue for damages and back pay. It also would have stopped employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with their coworkers.

It’s hard to believe that we are still having a conversation about the wage gap when countless studies show that it exists and that it affects women across their lifespan. The Institute of Women’s Policy Research found that the wage gap will cost women $400,000 to $2 million over a lifetime in lost wages. The gap also follows women after they leave the workforce, since lower wages translate to less opportunity to save for a secure retirement and lower Social Security monthly benefits.

Women still make 77 cents on the dollar for what men make. However, there are those who argue that women “choose” this gap because they tend to enter lower paying fields. One might think that makes sense, but when you look at nursing, where women hold 9 out of 10 of positions, you see that is not the case. In fact, female nurses actually earn 88% of what male nurses earn.

Others argue that women do not attain as much education as men to account for the wage gap, so it is only fair that they don’t make as much as men. By their argument, women should clearly make the same amount as men with equal education and in the same field; however, this argument does not hold water when you examine the facts. For example, women make up half of all law school graduates, but are less than one quarter of law firm partners and a recent study found that even the highest-ranking female lawyers are paid an average of $66,000 less per year than their male colleagues.

Still others argue that women leave the workforce for caregiving responsibilities (for either children or older adult family members), so they shouldn’t be paid as much. Pesky statistics get in the way again. Women who graduate from top ranked business schools will start out making $4,600 less per year than their male counterparts in their first job out of school and the American Association of University Women’s research shows that the wage gap begins within the first year out of college.

It’s time to move forward on this issue together and move past old, persistent myths. Many women are heads of households. Equal pay is good for women, good for families and good for men. Men and women should advocate for closing the wage gap to build the economic security of Americans both now and in the future.

Kelly Stellrecht
Field and Program Associate
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fiscal Commission's Initial Recommendations Threaten Elder Economic Security

Recommendations released yesterday by the co-chairs of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform do not represent the wants or needs of the American people.

The co-chairs of the bi-partisan fiscal commission have issued recommendations that fall hard on middle- class Americans, especially elders. A formula change in calculating Social Security benefits would reduce benefits for one in two Social Security beneficiaries. Also recommended is yet another rise of the retirement age (except for an unspecified “hardship exception” for those unable to work after age 62). Under the proposed plan, the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) would be reduced to account for a “substitution” effect, such as substituting pork for beef. Furthermore, the changes proposed to our nation’s most successful social program would hurt the economic security of future retirees by cutting retirement benefits for young people just entering the workforce by more than 35%.

Though the proposal does mention increasing the cap on wages subject to the Social Security tax to increase revenue, overall the report relies more heavily on reducing spending than on raising revenues through tax reform. Programs like Meals on Wheels and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance would be subject to annual across-the-board cuts if discretionary programs as a whole were not reduced to meet annual caps.

From our recent opinion research conducted by Lake Research Partners as part of  WOW’s Building Bridges to Economic Security Campaign, we found that Americans of all ages and political affiliations support programs, like Meals on Wheels, that help vulnerable populations stay afloat. In fact, 93% favored the maintenance of this crucial program. A secure retirement topped the list of all the things Americans wished they could save for – with almost 4 in 10 wanting to do so – and many voiced concerns about potential cuts to Social Security as adding to the uncertainty of their family’s ability to be economically secure.

Though the full report will not be released until December 1, these initial recommendations as a whole do not bode well for the economic security of current and future retirees absent an outcry from the public. WOW urges the Commission and Congress moving forward to propose ways to build, not diminish, the economic security of Americans across the generations.

Susan Rees
Director of National Policy & Projects

Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Friday, November 5, 2010

No COLA = Big Problem; Advocate for the $250 One-Time Emergency Payment for Seniors

The federal government announced in October that Social Security beneficiaries will not receive a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) …again. It is now the second consecutive year the government placed a freeze on the COLA during the recession, when people especially need additional income to pay for basic and rising expenses. To curtail the negative effect of the COLA freeze last year, Congress passed a $250 emergency one-time payment for all Social Security beneficiaries as part of the Recovery Act; however, they have yet to do so this time around. The emergency payment not only assisted seniors in making ends meet but also bolstered the economy when spent.

Not having a COLA presents an array of problems for seniors struggling to be economically secure in this economy, including forcing them to make tough choices on basic needs. As long as the COLA is nonexistent, some form of payment is necessary to supplement the income of beneficiaries. We know that Social Security alone is not enough to get by, as demonstrated by WOW’s Elder Index. For a woman renter living on the average Social Security payment of $12,626 year, it provides just 61% of what she needs to be economically secure.

The House is scheduled to vote on legislation that will provide much needed assistance to senior Social Security beneficiaries and other vulnerable groups. The Seniors Protection Act of 2010 (H.R. 5987) provides seniors with a one-time emergency payment of $250 in 2011. Check out WOW’s newest resource – our e-newsletter on the $250 one-time payment for more information. And be sure to contact your members of Congress and urge them to support the one-time payment!

Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Friday, October 29, 2010

The [Caregiver’s] Gender Gap

The wage disparity between men and women continues to affect the economic security of working women. Another gender gap, however, is the caregiver gap. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 59-75% of caregivers are women. The caregiver gap contributes to lower earning potential, disproportionately affecting women, because many have to take time off work or digress from full-time work to part-time to make time for caregiving. This trend is then reflected in retirement through lower Social Security benefits and fewer retirement savings.

The Alzheimer’s Association conducted a “Women and Alzheimer’s” poll as part of its A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s report and found that among workers who care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, 21% of female caregivers and 18% of male caregivers had to take time off from work. In addition, 14% of female caregivers and 11% of male caregivers went from full-time to part-time work and 10% of female caregivers and 3% of male caregivers retired early because of their responsibilities. These caregiving decisions affect a caregiver’s lifelong economic security.

The poll also found that a majority (64%) of workers who care for someone with Alzheimer’s needed to arrive to work late, leave early or take time in the day from work. However, men were more likely than women (70% vs. 61%) to go in to work late or leave early because men are more likely to be in fields with more flexible schedules, or are more likely to ask for flexibility.

It is essential to advocate for job flexibility and expand workplace protections to assist caregivers and families. For those caregivers who decide to take time off from work, the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act (H.R. 769) can help by implementing a formula to credit caregiving for up to five years so that individuals are not penalized for leaving the workforce by a reduction in Social Security benefits. Another part of the solution is expanding the Child Care Tax credit to include a Caregiver Tax Credit that will assist caregivers in building economic security for themselves and their families.

Supporting the needs of caregivers is essential to promoting elder economic security; there cannot be one without the other.

Kelly Stellrecht
Field and Program Associate
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bringing the Initiative to Washington State!

I recently returned from the Seattle area where I met many dedicated advocates working to help elders achieve economic security across the state. Their work is important as more than one in five seniors in Washington state relies on Social Security as their only source of income, amounting to an average income of $12,978/year for women and $17,313/year for men. Additionally, 8.4% of elders are living below the federal poverty level of $10,830 a year for an individual. To address the needs of this population, the advocates I met are gearing up to launch the Elder Economic Security Initiative (Initiative) in Washington.

The Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging (W4A), who is our lead partner in the state, hosted a meeting for their partners to discuss the Initiative and how it will increase their capacity to advocate for seniors. The event provided a great opportunity to introduce the framework and tools behind the Initiative, including the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), and began preliminary discussions on policy priorities to promote elder economic security in Washington. Also at the meeting, the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston presented draft Elder Index data to the W4A and its stakeholders showing what it really costs to retire in three counties in the state.

Despite facing state budget cuts that are sure to affect services for elders in Washington, the Initiative is brimming with ideas of how to educate the public and push for public policies that help seniors achieve economic security. Over the next few months, they will develop a robust policy agenda to accompany the Elder Index for Washington.

Find out more about the Washington Initiative and get involved if you live in the state!

Maggie Flowers
Field Manager
Elder Economic Security Initiative @ WOW

Friday, October 22, 2010

WOW Releases New Measure of Economic Security

Last week, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) released its newest measure of economic security, the Basic Economic Security Tables for the DC Metro Area (DC BEST) . WOW is pleased to have been featured in multiple media outlets over the past week, including the Sunday edition of the Washington Post.

The DC BEST calculates the monthly income a family needs to be economically secure. Provided in the full report are data for over 400 family types, distinguishing between two-parent and one-parent households and ages of children. The full report also found that about half of DC residents have not attained economic security.

Building on WOW’s Self-Sufficiency Standard and Elder Index, the DC BEST includes a savings component for emergency and retirement savings, showing families what it takes to save for the future. The data also shows Fairfax County as the most expensive place to live in the DC area, costing a family of four (two parents, one preschool-age child and one school-age child) over $100,000 a year to make ends meet.

Working will allied partners, WOW will use the DC BEST to advocate for those in the District and beyond. Accompanying the data is a policy brief outlining WOW’s recommendations to the incoming administration for building economic security for all DC residents. We will use the data to advocate for a number of issues, including the creation of good jobs, increased childcare assistance and financial literacy education about saving for emergencies and retirement.

We encourage you to view the full report, which includes data for DC and its surrounding jurisdictions including Alexandria City, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County and executive summary of the policy brief for more information .You can also contact WOW’s DC Family Economic Security Program Team: Sara Bocinski ( and Delese Harvey (

Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Friday, October 15, 2010

Senators Put White House on Notice: Cuts to Social Security Won’t Work

Last week, eleven senators drafted a resolution in opposition to privatizing Social Security and raising the retirement age. It baffles me that just eleven senators signed on to this resolution considering Social Security’s role in building economic security for not only seniors, but children, widows and people with disabilities. Perhaps other senators are unaware that Social Security is 90% or more of the income in retirement for 3 in 10 seniors and that without it more than half would live below the federal poverty level.

Furthermore, at a Senate hearing on why the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform should not look at Social Security to solve the nation’s federal deficit, Sen. Sanders (I-VT), who signed the resolution, acknowledged that Social Security has not contributed to the deficit. So, why would the Commission look to it to solve the deficit problem? Perhaps because it is currently running a huge surplus; but let’s remember this surplus is allocated to the people and families who have paid into the program and is not to be used to close the government’s deficit.

WOW just wrapped up five day-long regional meetings across the country as part of our Building Bridges to Economic Security Campaign. We met with over 130 organizations, many of which participated in our policy sessions on Social Security. Whether we were in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or in between, one theme resonated across the country: Social Security must be strengthened for future generations. We already know from WOW’s Elder Index that living on Social Security alone is not enough to meet a senior’s basic needs – so benefit cuts would only exacerbate this issue.

WOW applauds the senators who support this resolution because each recognizes that strengthening Social Security is not about making older workers stay in the workforce to make ends meet or assigning workers private savings accounts that can waiver in a volatile stock market. Strengthening Social Security is about keeping the promise to our current and future retirees that Social Security will be there for them as a dependable source of income in retirement.

Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wake Up Washington: Older Women and Economic Security

Imagine living your whole life working just to pay the bills – not saving for your future, but simply paying for the present. You work as much as you can, but also decide to have a family and need to take time off work. Before you know it, you are 65 and it is time to retire. This would be an exciting time in your life, except you don’t have any savings. Thankfully, you have Social Security. You start receiving your benefits, but then you realize it’s not enough to get by. Now what do you do?

Some of you might not have to imagine this scenario; you’re living it or know someone who is. The fact is that women across the country who take time out of the workforce to raise children or care for an elder relative receive fewer wages in the long run and, therefore, less Social Security benefits in retirement. The sacrifices women make truly shape their retirement security. According to WOW’s Elder Index, the average Social Security benefit for women is $12,526 compared with $16,572 for men.

Wake Up Washington! Women are struggling to make ends meet in retirement and should not be penalized for taking care of their families. The Social Security Caregiver Credit Act (H.R. 769) is a step in the right direction. The Act would give full-time caregivers Social Security credits for up to five years out of the workforce. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1338) also is a step in the right direction to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work.

It’s time for action, let’s get to work and make sure that women get equal pay and, therefore, an equal retirement!

Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Celebrating our Grandparents

Last Monday, the White House held a briefing in honor of Grandparents Day. Members of the Administration discussed the status of programs, policies and services that help grandparents and seniors age in place with dignity, including provisions under the Affordable Care Act and the Senior Community Services Employment Program (SCSEP). Administration officials stressed the need of dissemination information about these programs to counter public misinformation. Read the President’s official proclamation.

Grandparents are an important part of our lives and an important part of society. It is great to see the Administration’s recognition of our elders and WOW continues to advocate on behalf of all elders particularly through our recommendation for the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA), including the establishment of an economic security framework in the legislation. If you have ideas on how the OAA can be improved, please send them our way.

Do you or your grandparents have a story to share about making ends meet? If so, WOW encourages you to share your personal stories with us and Retirement USA – a coalition advocating for a secure and adequate retirement system to make it possible for more grandparents and seniors to be economically secure in retirement. Retirement USA’s “Wake Up Washington” month-long campaign continues until October 15th. Email WOW at to share your story!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Anti-poverty programs help bridge the gap to economic security

The economic downturn continues to have lasting effects on millions of Americans. According to an article in USA Today, anti-poverty programs now serve one in six Americans. These programs include Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as Food Stamps), Unemployment Insurance (UI), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and others.

For elders on a fixed income, anti-poverty programs are critical in building economic security. According to the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), a measure of income adequacy for elders age 65, the gap from the average Social Security payment and what is needed for economic security is about $6,000 per year for a single elder renter. Although Social Security payments were never meant to serve as the sole source of income for older Americans, over 30% depend on Social Security for more than 90% or more of their income.

Anti-poverty programs vary in every state, but as an example, we can look at an elder with a very low fixed income in San Juan County, New Mexico – the latest state to join the Elder Economic Security Initiative. By examing each program’s impact, we demonstrate how programs help to close the income gap, with housing assistance providing the largest benefit.

(click on the chart to view it as a larger image)

It is critical to conduct outreach to elders so they are aware of income support programs that can help them make ends meet and meet the goal of economic security.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Keeping the Promise of Social Security for Older Women and their Families

Last week, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) celebrated Women’s Equality Day and we continue to commemorate the women who came before us and advocated for our right to vote. Even today, however, there are still women’s issues to address, like equal pay. We encourage you and your networks to participate with us next month in a push to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Unequal pay continues to affect a woman's ability to make ends meet in retirement. As August comes to a close and we near the end of our month-long celebration of Social Security, we here at WOW would like to reflect on just how much Social Security helps older women reach economic security.

The Elder Index, a measure of income adequacy for adults 65 and over, developed by WOW and the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, shows that women who live on Social Security alone receive on average just $12,536, though what is needed to make it is anywhere from $16,415 to $24,455 depending on their housing status. This means older women relying solely on Social Security receive 51 to 76 percent of what is needed to be secure in retirement. Despite the inability to provide 100% of the income needed to meet basic needs, Social Security is a reliable base of support for older women.

Furthermore, due to care giving responsibilities, many women leave the workforce and forfeit years of income and Social Security credits to take care of their loved ones, which is a contributing factor of why women are twice as likely to live in poverty as they age than men.

It is important to remember that while fiscal discipline is needed, it should not come at the cost of hurting Social Security beneficiaries. We must keep the promise of Social Security for future retirees who are now paying into the system and expect to receive benefits when they retire; that is how Congress set up the program 75 years ago and why it should be strengthened, not cut, so that older women, and all Americans, can continue to have a stable source of income on which they can depend on in retirement.

In celebration of Social Security's 75th birthday, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) is blogging throughout the month about the importance of this program to an elder's ability to age in place. This is the third and final blog of the month-long series.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Learn How to be More Effective Advocates for Economic Security

What is economic security really? Are generations working together or at odds? Are we on the same page with American families?

Do Americans have any idea what we are talking about?

Have you ever found yourself thinking any or all of these thoughts? Organizations across the country work tirelessly on these issues day in and day out, but each has a different definition of economic need.

Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) is working to address this through national public opinion research on economic security to help guide advocacy, education and outreach efforts to promote economic security throughout one’s lifetime.

Is your organization advancing the needs of low-income Americans? Then apply to be an Economic Security Champion.

WOW is calling on organizations willing to embrace the framework of promoting economic security over a lifetime to become our Economic Security Champions. Champions are key partners in each city at one of our five regional meetings, as part of our Building Bridges to Economic Security Campaign, in September and October. The meetings will provide a forum for an array of organizations on the local and state levels concerned about the economic justice of all Americans to discuss their priorities, share strategies and build new alliances. The meetings are as follows:
  • Monday September 20, 2010 – Chicago, Illinois
    Economic Security Champion Application Deadline: August 23, 2010
  • Monday, September 27, 2010 – Los Angeles, California
    Economic Security Champion Application Deadline: August 30, 2010
  • Friday, October 1, 2010 – Denver, Colorado
    Economic Security Champion Application Deadline: September 3, 2010
  • Monday, October 4, 2010 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Economic Security Champion Application Deadline: September 3, 2010
  • Friday, October 8, 2010 – Atlanta, GeorgiaEconomic Security Champion Application Deadline: September 8, 2010
WOW encourages your organization to apply for the award and to spread the word to your networks.

If you have any questions, please contact Kelly Stellrecht at Registration details are forthcoming.

We look forward to seeing you at one of our regional meetings!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Social Security is NOT in Crisis. What the 2010 Trustees Report Says About It

Social Security is not in crisis and is not bankrupt. According to the annual report authored by the Board of Trustees for Social Security released last week, Social Security will have a surplus of $77 billion by the end of this year. Furthermore, annual surpluses are projected to continue until 2025. That’s the good news. The purpose of this report is to provide a “heads up” to policy makers on the solvency of Social Security. For some time now, the Trustees have stated that reform is needed to ensure full benefits are paid in the future.

After 2025, the Trustees project that the Social Security trust fund will begin to spend down over the span of 12 years and be completely spent by 2037. However, this does not mean that Social Security will be bankrupt because workers will still pay into the system. What this does mean is that if Congress does not act in the next 27 years to shore up additional Social Security revenue, beneficiaries will receive 78% of promised benefits. So, that’s the not -so -good news.

But reform options can be enacted to ensure that benefits remain solvent for future generations, such as raising the Social Security cap on who is taxed to 90% of wages as was done in 1977. Currently, 82% of wages are taxed for Social Security.

Wider Opportunites for Women (WOW) and other national and state organizations call on Congress to act now to strengthen Social Security and address Social Security’s solvency over the long-term. And we are not the only ones: Americans across the country and across party-lines value Social Security and want it to be there for them. According to a National Academy of Social Insurance/Rockefeller poll, 87% of Americans do not mind paying for Social Security because of the security and stability it provides to others.

In celebration of Social Security’s 75th birthday, Wider Opportuities for Women (WOW) created several materials for advocates, including a birthday card to send to Congress. Tell your Representative how important Social Security is to you and your family by mailing them a card.

Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) is blogging throughout the month about the importance of Social Security to an elder's ability to age in place. This is the second blog of the month-long series.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Don't be Fooled! Raising the Retirement Age is a Benefit Cut!

Yesterday, I attended a Hill briefing, hosted by the National Council of Women’s Organizations' (NCWO)  Older Women Economic Security Taskforce (OWES) on why raising the Social Security retirement age (again) is a bad idea. Proponents of this bad idea think it will encourage older workers to work longer and further the solvency of Social Security. The reality, however, is that raising the retirement age is a benefit cut for current and future retirees and negatively affects their ability to be economically secure. Furthermore, many older workers are not collecting benefits early because they want or choose to. In this economy older workers are being laid off and are unable to find jobs, and end up collecting benefits before full retirement age because they have to.

Here’s how raising the retirement age is a benefit cut as explained in the Raising the Social Security Age is Dangerous white paper, co-authored by Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW).

“If your benefit at age 66 is $1,000 a month but Congress raises the retirement age to 67, then you would have to wait one year to collect $1,000 a month. This means you would lose a year of collecting full benefits and lose again because instead of receiving $1,080 a month at age 67 your benefit would be just $1,000.”
The increased monthly payment of $1,080 is a result of the annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).

WOW’s Elder Economic Security Standard Index (Elder Index) further shows that current average annual Social Security benefits are not enough to make ends meet. An elder renter needs $20,326 a year while the average Social Security benefit is just $12,526 for women and $16,572 for men. As costs for basic needs continue to rise, benefit cuts would hurt an elder’s ability to age in place with dignity.

Social Security should be strengthened, not cut. Instead of looking for ways to cut benefits, Congress should look for ways to shore up more funds for this critical program that so many depend on.

In celebration of Social Security's 75th birthday, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) is blogging throughout the month about the importance of this program to an elder's ability to age in place. This is the first blog of the month-long series.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

WOW Celebrates Medicare's 45th Birthday

Last week, in recognition of Medicare's 45th Birthday, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) released a press statement supporting the strengthening of Medicare through the Affordable Care Act. Stacy Sanders, Director of the Elder Economic Security Initiative, also blogged on the Huffington Post on the importance of Medicare to an elders' economic security in retirement.

Be sure to check them out and comment on the blog!

Friday, July 23, 2010

White House Backs Paycheck Fairness Act

This week, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) and other women’s organizations met with Vice President Biden and other Administration officials about the importance of equal pay to the economic security of women and their families. Additionally, the White House hosted a call on Women and the Economy to reinforce the importance of passing the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182 / H.R. 12) and to share steps the Administration is taking to help with work-family balance. The Paycheck Fairness Act has already passed in the House and the President and Vice President urged the Senate to pass the bill before the August recess. The legislation once made law will equip women to advocate for fair pay in the workforce without fear of retaliation.

WOW joins with the Administration in urging the Senate to pass this legislation. For too long, women have been paid less for equal work, inhibiting many of them to make ends meet and care for their families. This aggregate affect of earning less in the workforce year after year, in combination with many women leaving the workforce intermittently for caregiving responsibilities, means women, on average, earn $413,000 less than men over a 40-year career. Depending upon where you live the number can fluctuate tremendously. According to the Center for American Progress, the wage gap for a college-educated woman in Virginia is more than $1 million over a 40-year career.

Consequently, in retirement women receive less Social Security benefits and must stretch their limited income farther in late life. As the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index) shows, Social Security is not enough to make it in retirement. The Paycheck Fairness Act supports women in their working years to allow them a better chance at a secure retirement.

A calendar of events, starting in mid-August, is available to help you advocate for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Let’s work together to make sure women finally receive equal pay for equal work!

-Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Friday, July 16, 2010

MinnEESI Update

The Minnesota Women’s Consortium, the state lead of the Minnesota Elder Economic Security Initiative (MinnEESI), has been busy these past few months planning a forum on the economic security of older women in the state. This week all of their hard work came to fruition and the Minnesota Women’s Consortium co-hosted the forum with the Office on the Economic Status of Women (OESW). Advocates and experts in aging from across the St. Paul area participated in a morning discussion on the findings of a new OESW report.

Findings from the report include:

• Among retired workers, monthly benefits averaged just $1,001 for women.
• Over half of U.S. women workers age 65 and over earned less than $35,000 in 2007. Just one-third of their male counterparts earned less than $35,000.
• According to the Minnesota Elder Index, median income for older women is just $12,691.

For more information about the event and the findings, read the full report and press release. You can also listen to the audio version of the forum.

- Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Friday, July 9, 2010

WOW Remembers Dr. Robert Butler

Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) recognizes the life and accomplishments of Dr. Robert Butler who passed away this week at the age of 83.

In the world of aging, few people made their mark like Dr. Butler. Throughout his adult life he advocated on behalf of all elders and educated the public on the many facets of aging and why he regarded it as a positive thing.

Most notably, Dr. Butler coined the term “ageism” to describe the discrimination of elders. Additionally, he led a critical study on aging, which concluded that aging is not the cause of elder-prone health issues, such as Alzheimer’s disease, but simply a risk factor. He also helped develop one of the first gerontology institutes at the college level and established the National Institute on Aging.

Dr. Butler’s efforts are a reminder of the importance of elder advocates and the continued study of elders’ physical and mental health and economic well-being. The Elder Economic Security Initiative and its tool the Elder Index aim to provide elders and their families with the information they need to be economically secure and age in place with dignity. The work of Dr. Butler will continue to influence how our organization and those around the world work to provide elders with a better way of life.

-Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

CLASS Act is a Good First Step

Panelists at the 2010 National Dialogue on Long Term Care discussed the challenges associated with the rapidly growing older population, including the skyrocketing costs of long-term care, Medicare and Medicaid. This issue is of great importance because the population 85 years and older is growing at 3% rate, while the general population only grows at a rate of 1%. And those age 85 and older are more likely to need long-term care services and supports.

This event highlighted the problems associated with elders in poor health; however, in reality, millions of elders, even those in good health, struggle to make ends meet. According to national averages of the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), developed by Wider Opportunities for Women and the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, a single woman renter requires about $20,000 annually for basic needs, not including the cost of long-term care. In fact, long-term care costs can double or even triple what an elder needs to age in place, according to the Elder Index. In Michigan, for example, adding a low level of home and community-based long-term care for one person costs an extra $7,100 on average per year. The highest level of care can add up to $43,600 to living costs.

On the policy front, the staggering cost of long-term care has been addressed, in part, by the CLASS. Act, signed into law earlier this year as part of health care reform. The provisions of CLASS will establish a voluntary long-term care insurance system that today’s workers can pay into for their future long-term care needs.

While the passage of CLASS is an important step forward, there’s still much that needs to be done as the program is put into practice. First, to be successful, employers need to offer the benefit and actively educate their employees about the importance of staying enrolled. Second, employees must recognize how the CLASS benefit can help them afford long-term care services and supports. The Elder Index provides a useful tool for educating both of these audiences about the staggering cost of home and community-based long-term care. The Elder Index makes clear why programs, like CLASS, must be available to help disabled workers and elders afford long-term care.

- Kelly Stellrecht
Field & Program Associate
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Monday, June 28, 2010

More than 1 Million No Longer Receive Unemployment Insurance

Although the current unemployment rate still hovers at around ten percent, the Senate last week failed to end debate and pass a measure to extend unemployment insurance (UI) and other workforce development provisions on behalf of the millions of Americans still out of work. Though economists predict the U.S. is moving toward recovery, the job market has yet to pick up steam and recreate or reinstate jobs that were lost in one of the worst recessions our country has ever faced.

This week, over 1 million people will stop receiving benefits and millions more are on the verge of stopped payments unless the extender’s bill is passed by the Senate and signed by the President. These benefits help stimulate the economy by providing $2.15 in economic growth for every dollar in spent benefits.

UI is not only a source of income for the laid-off worker, but also a source of income for their families. Many families rely on this income to pay bills and purchase food. Some use the funds to take care of the basic needs of an elder relative. The increase of unemployment among older workers, age 65 and older, has also increased dramatically – by 235% between January 2000 and December 2009 according to the AARP Policy Institute.

Regardless of what exactly the funds are used for, they serve the purpose of allowing Americans to stay afloat while searching for employment. Halting these benefits will unfortunately cause many unemployed workers to drift into poverty or fall into debt. Neither of these options is a good one for the individual nor the country as whole.

Call your Senator and let them know why extending UI benefits helps the economy of your community and the country as a whole. You can see how your Senator voted here.

-Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Friday, June 25, 2010

WOW is Hiring

Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) is currently accepting applications for 4 new positions within the organization. Please see links to each job description below.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Doomsday for Social Security isn't the Truth

The Urban Institute is holding a series of forums this summer on Social Security, including one last week called “The Future of Social Security: Solvency, Adequacy & Equity, and Work” (Click here for information on the July forum). Panelists, including Virginia P. Reno, advisory board member for the Elder Economic Security Initiative, discussed how changes in demographics will affect the Social Security system.

The media and some politicians often use overreaching phrases like “crisis” and “going bankrupt” when referring to Social Security. This misinformation does nothing to further the debate and instead leads to a grave misunderstanding about a popular program. Seventy-five percent of Americans say it is critical to preserve Social Security -- even if it means paying higher taxes.

The truth is that Social Security is one of the most successful social programs ever created. Social Security payments have helped millions of elders stay out of poverty. In fact, about 1 in 10 elders is considered poor. Without Social Security payments, the number of elders relying only on retirement savings would increase significantly and almost half of our nation’s seniors would live below the federal poverty level.

Some argue that Social Security is the cause of our nation’s budget deficit and that its benefits represent too much of our nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Currently, however, Social Security benefits are just 4.9% of GDP. In 2035, Social Security will be about 5.8-6.1% GDP and will remain at that level for 75 years after that.

This increase is a reality, but this isn’t the first time a federal program has shifted the division of GDP in this country. When Baby Boomers were children, the share of GDP spent on public schools rose by 2.8% between 1950 and 1975. Now that this generation is retiring a shift in the GDP spent on Social Security makes sense.

So, instead of finding ways to scare people into thinking Social Security is disappearing, we must figure out how to plan for the GDP increase, preserve benefits for elders and fulfill the promise of Social Security for future generations.

- Kelly Stellrecht
  Field & Program Associate
  Elder Economic Security Initiative

More information on Social Security can be found at the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI).

Friday, June 18, 2010

Exposing Elder Abuse

This week Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) commemorates the 5th Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This is the first year the federal government acknowledged the day with an event co-sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Justice. The event featured officials from each department who spoke on the importance of the issue and what is happening in their respective divisions to combat elder abuse.

Financial abuse is especially detrimental to an elder’s ability to make ends meet. Elders unwillingly and unknowingly lose their assets through deceitful tactics by family members, friends, and scam artists. The advocacy group Consumer Action estimates that seniors age 60 and older represent almost 30 percent of fraud victims, though they are only 15 percent of the U.S. population.

Steps are being taken on the federal level to alleviate elder abuse, whether financial, physical, or emotional. The Elder Justice Act, made law through health reform passed earlier this year, provides funds over a four year period to support the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program, adult protective services, and also the creation of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council. The Council will collect information and make recommendations on the collaborative efforts between federal, state, and local agencies on elder abuse cases.

The passage of these provisions is an important step toward eradicating elder abuse. The unfortunate reality, however, is that many elder abuse cases go unreported.

If you suspect elder abuse in your community, please contact your local adult protective services agency.

-Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

WOW's Blog Day A Success!

Last month, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) hosted its second annual blog day, "America's Budget Matters (So Does Yours)". People from across the country blogged about fiscal responsibility on the federal and state levels and shared their personal insight on budget matters.

Thanks to the blogs and comments of so many we are pleased to report our blog event as a greater success than the inaugural event!

Now featured on the Budget Matters website is the Budget Matters Digest, a summary of event highlights. We encourage you to check it out.

Until next year...happy blogging!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Women's Bureau Turns 90!

This week, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) celebrates the 90-year history of the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. Since its establishment in 1920 the Women’s Bureau has advocated for the economic security of working women and their families. WOW is privileged to work with and is currently funded by the Women’s Bureau in two key projects advancing employment opportunities for women: the Women’s Apprenticeships in Non-Traditional Occupations (WANTO) program and the Green Jobs for Women Initiative.

WANTO funding allows WOW to provide technical assistance to employers and unions who place women in apprenticeships that are in non-traditional occupations, such as construction and carpentry. As we know, women are segregated into occupations that do not always provide self-sustaining wages, such as construction, which few women choose as a career path. In fact, according the Department of Labor, in 2008 one-half of all working women were clustered into just 25 occupations. The WANTO program is a vital component to the success of women who decide to enter non-traditional industries.

Additionally, WOW, in collaboration with Public Policy Associates, Inc., is developing, “A Woman’s Guide to Green Jobs” report to provide women in the workforce with information on professional development and training opportunities in the green jobs sector and on hiring needs and challenges in the current economy. Content for the guide was collected through a series of roundtable discussions hosted by the Women’s Bureau at various sites nationwide.

WOW is just one of the many organizations that have benefited from the establishment of the Women’s Bureau, not to mention the millions of women who profited from its advocacy efforts around the Fair Labor Standards and Equal Pay Acts. In the years to come, we look forward to working with the Women’s Bureau in its continual efforts to ensure economic security for women.

-Alisha Howell
Communications & Program Coordinator
Elder Economic Security Initiative

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mind the Gap --- All the Way to Retirement!

Through the early 1960s, it was common practice for employers to segregate job listings for men and women. In many cases, identical ads were run for each gender – but with a lower pay rate for the job targeting women.

That is, until 1963, when it became illegal to pay women lower wages for the same job through passage of the Equal Pay Act under President Kennedy.

While women have made measurable progress in the workplace since passage of the Act, a severe gap persists. In 1963, women earned 59% of what men took home. Forty seven years later, women now earn 77% of their male counterparts. The loss of 23 cents on the dollar translates to a pay gap of over $10,600 between the median annual earnings of men and women. Over a lifetime of work, this translates to a loss of at least $700,000.

Loss in income not only affects women and their families during working years, but also in retirement because women contribute less to Social Security and other retirement plans when they are paid less. In 2008, the average Social Security retirement benefit for women was 24% less than the average benefit for men.

Equal pay would benefit society as a whole. Studies have found that if women in the workforce earned the same amount as men, family incomes would increase by $4,000 a year and the poverty rate would be cut in half.

The only way the wage gap will be alleviated is to address it head on and acknowledge that it is a problem. Today, as we recognize the anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, we must look at what can be done to bridge the gap. Women have made tremendous progress over the last 47 years, but more can and should be done, such as passing the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12 / S. 182). This Act would strengthen provisions in the Equal Pay Act and create incentives for employers to follow the law. It has already passed in the House last year and has over 40 cosponsors in the Senate.

It’s time for the Senate and President Obama to make this legislation a priority – pass the bill, make it law and close the gap.

- Kelly Stellrecht
  Field & Program Associate
  Elder Economic Security Initiative

More information on the wage gap can be found at the National Women’s Law Center and the American Association of University Women.

Monday, June 7, 2010

West Virginia Launch!

Last week, the Elder Economic Security Initiative™ officially launched in West Virginia at a press event at the state capitol in Charleston!

Our state partner, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy hosted the event in collaboration with the West Virginia Long Term Care Partnership, the Gerontology Institute at UMASS-Boston, and WOW. Speakers discussed the importance of the Initiative to the citizens of West Virginia and explained the county level data of the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index.

After the press event, our state partner conducted a webinar to discuss the findings of the Elder Index with media outside the Charleston area. The webinar also featured Stacy Sanders from WOW and our research partner Alison Gottlieb from the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Radio and newspaper outlets featured the Initiative last week, including the Charleston Gazette and West Virginia National Public Radio.

Congratulations to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the West Virginia Long Term Care Partnership on a successful day of events!

West Virginia Reports:

West Virginia Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index

Elders Living the Edge: When Basic Needs Exceed Income in West Virginia

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What Granny’s House Means to Me and Her Economic Security

The following blog was authored by Alyssa Best, Senior DC Program Associate at Wider Opportunities for Women.

In the past 6 months, I’ve experienced the excitement and anxiety of becoming a first-time homeowner – packing up my items to move into a much bigger space – and witnessing my 89-year-old grandmother, “Granny,” sell the house she’s owned and occupied since the 1960s – packing up her antique and treasured items to move into a small, one-bedroom senior living facility.

I have to admit that it’s been hard for me and others in the family to come to terms with the fact that Granny won’t be living the rest of her life in her house, which has served as the cornerstone of family celebrations and holidays. I grew up a mile from Granny’s house and spent much of my childhood playing in the house and the “swamp” out back.

Despite all of these happy memories, I’m excited that Granny will have a new place to make friends and have people to look out for her. Most of all, the sale of Granny’s house (which was paid off years ago) means that she will have additional savings to draw on as she continues to age. While Granny collects other retirement benefits, the sale of this asset provides a huge cushion enabling her to live comfortably and to receive quality medical care.

Even when Granny lived in her house, her expenses were significantly lower because she owned a home without a mortgage for many years. According to Wider Opportunities for Women’s Elder Economic Security Initiative™, an owner without a mortgage pays on average $376/month compared to a renter paying $705/month. It’s easy to see how once homeowners have paid off their mortgages and continue to age in place, there is a greater opportunity for their savings to accumulate over the long term.

This Memorial Day, I’m visiting my grandmother in her new apartment for the first time. It’s going to be a strange experience driving to a new place and seeing familiar furniture pieces configured in a new and unfamiliar space. Most of all, I will miss my grandmother standing by her porch waving goodbye as I pull out of the driveway. However, I can have peace of mind knowing that Granny is being taken care of in this next phase of her life as I drive to my new home – an asset that will hopefully contribute to my economic security for years to come.

Answering Tough Questions On America's Budget Matters

The following post was authored by Peter Notarstefano, Director of Home & Community-based Services at the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA).

Wider Opportunities for Women's (WOW) blogging event America's Budget Matters (So Does Yours) highlights some difficult questions that the leaders of our nation, both Republicans, Democrats and Independents must answer for us to grow as a nation.

Many Americans bought houses that they couldn’t afford or have massive credit card debt. We teach history, mathematics, English and other important subjects in elementary and high school, yet we don’t teach personal finances. My 85 year old mother tells me stories of the World War II days when they had rationing books, and couldn’t buy certain items because the country was focused on winning a war. We had great leaders then, and the American people followed the example of their leaders. It took tough, unpopular decisions to deal with a difficult time in history.

To answer the question, “What can President Obama and Congress do to help Americans be economically secure while balancing the budget?” All I can say is that he needs to listen to Americans, be straightforward concerning what we can afford, and what we can’t afford, and finally make the tough decisions. He needs to be proactive, and not just move the decision process to a presidential commission.

Concerning the question, “What do President Obama and Congress need to know about your budget – or that of those you represent?” Well, as a son, he needs to know that I worry about the quality of life that my 85 year old mother will have living in New York City where electric, heating expenses, transportation, food and health care expenses are overwhelming. She lives on a small Social Security check, and is not eligible for Medicaid. Twenty-five percent of her income goes to pay the cost of a Medicare supplemental policy.

As a father, I worry about the high cost of a college education for my daughter, and the financial burden of paying off student loans. For my son, I worry about the high cost of health insurance and a volatile job market. For my wife and I, my worry is that we will not be able to retire, and the cost of our health care when we are seniors will be impossible to manage.

As an advocate for home and community-based services at the American Association of Homes and services for the Aging, I am concerned that reductions in payments to all providers of services for older adults will be cut to the point of having a negative impact on the quality of services. As a civilized society, we cannot sacrifice the care we give to our children, elderly parents and persons with disabilities in order to have a quick fix to balancing a budget.

Solve the Deficit Problem by Making Taxpayers of the Unemployed

The following blog was authored by Susan Rees, Director of  National Policy & Projects
at Wider Opportunities for Women.

The most painless way to get our budget back into balance is to create jobs for America’s 15 million unemployed and the millions more who have given up looking for work. Not only will they be better able to support their families and become self-fulfilled citizens themselves, but they will resume paying taxes, including the payroll taxes that finance Social Security and Medicare.

A full employment strategy should be certain to consider the issues facing older workers who are having particular difficulty finding employment in this recession. Only 12% of workers over age 50 unemployed in April 2009 had found work in March of this year, compared to 29% of workers age 30-49, according to a survey by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers. This looks a lot like forced early retirement to me. Then there are those who willingly retired before their normal retirement age but found their retirement accounts decimated by the recession. Now they also need work, often in a new field or a part-time job, just to stay even.

Job creation is a win-win as far as our budget deficit goes. To revitalize our economy over the long run we need “all hands on deck,” as President Obama says. Buckminster Fuller once said if you put a thousand people to work just thinking, one of them will come up with an idea to pay all the rest.

We have plenty of work that needs to be done while we wait for the promised new green economy to take hold. There is tutoring and mentoring for school children, early childhood education and day care, services for the sick and isolated, staffing for recreation and arts programs, the list goes on and on. One legislative solution is the Local Jobs for America Act (H.R. 4812) that would create or save a million jobs providing needed community services in nonprofits and public agencies. For those who need a job and new skills, it would fund 50,000 on-the-job training slots with private employers.

Let’s give our people productive work. It’s time to turn this lemon of an economy into lemonade.

Benefits Matter to Older Americans’ Budgets and Health

The following blog was co-authored by Ramsey Alwin and Brandy Baeur
of the National Council on Aging

Last year Della Davis, a senior in Saginaw, Michigan, frequently sought free meals at soup kitchens, and struggled to pay for her medications and utilities. After being screened with BenefitsCheckUp® – a free, confidential online tool from the National Council on Aging that helps Medicare beneficiaries determine their eligibility for public benefits programs – Ms. Davis is now receiving over $1,600 a year to help pay for food, prescriptions and household utilities.

Unfortunately, Ms. Davis’s circumstances are not unique. Over 11 million older Americans struggle every day to make ends meet, with the economic downturn only worsening their precarious situations. Consider this:

• 31% of adults aged 65 and older get by on an income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) (200% FPL = $21,660 for an individual). Those numbers rise sharply for seniors aged 75+.

• Women fare worse than men, and communities of color are disproportionately represented amongst those living in poverty. For example, almost 50% of elderly African-American women have incomes below 200% FPL.

• 96% of Americans aged 65-69 with an income below poverty have retirement savings of less than $10,000.

For these seniors, public benefits programs – such as Social Security, Medicare Savings Programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and others – can have a profound impact on quality of life. Benefits not only help them to pay for necessary medical services, prescriptions, food and home energy costs, they also can make the difference in allowing seniors to continue living independently in their homes versus in an institution. Yet in times of economic leanness, the President and Congress often hear calls to cut/scale back public benefits programs.

This year, the theme of Older Americans Month is Age Strong! Live Long! We need to remind President Obama and Congress that achieving this goal of strength and longevity requires preserving benefits programs for economically vulnerable seniors.

Della Davis got the assistance she needed. Let’s make sure there are many more stories like hers in the future!

Could You Live on Social Security?

The following blog was written by Kate White, Executive Director, Elder Law of Michigan

As the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform turns its attention to Social Security, it is vital that Washington doesn’t attempt to impose “responsibility and reform” on the backs of low income families. Social Security is the cornerstone of the safety net in the United States, providing a small income for people with disabilities, children, and older adults. Cuts to Social Security benefits would be disastrous to the people who count on them for housing and food and will dramatically impact local business owners who are paid through Social Security payments. As states and non-profits reduce and eliminate services to all tax payers, low income and middle class Americans stand the most to lose if Social Security benefits are cut. The promise and peril of our society is that the majority of citizens are just a few large unanticipated expenses away from being impoverished.

Social Security is not responsible for the federal budget deficit. In effective tax policy (and failure to settle the federal estate tax), corporate welfare, pork barrel spending, and unaccountable defense expenditures top the list of reasons we face a growing deficit. Before we look to trim spending from citizens’ pockets, Washington needs to walk a mile in the shoes of people who live on only a Social Security check. Like the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge , policy makers should try to live in their districts for a month on only their estimated Social Security payment (if they suddenly had to rely only on Social Security and couldn’t work). Even doing a rough budget of housing, food, utilities, and transportation expenses would be illuminating. A Social Security Challenge would demonstrate to policy makers how modest Social Security is and what a small part of a family’s budget it turns out to be.

Friday, May 21, 2010

WOW Shows You How to Create Your Own Blog

As we prepare for our America's Budget Matters (So Does Yours) blog event on Wednesday, May 26 we thought we'd put together a video on how to create a blog for the event. If you have any questions, please contact Alisha Howell at We look forward to your participation on the 26th!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Learn How to Blog with WOW!

Wider Opportunities for Women's (WOW) blogging event America's Budget Matters (So Does Yours) is less than two weeks away! Right now, President Obama and Congress are deciding how to balance America's budget. When making these decisions, our nation's leaders need to hear about what matters when it comes to the budgets of all Americans - young and old. Blogging is an easy way to make your voice heard.

To find out more about WOW's blog event attend one of WOW's half-hour conference calls explaining the event and how you can blog.

- Wednesday, May 19, 2010
- Thursday, May 20, 2010
- Friday, May 21, 2010
- Monday, May 24, 2010

Call time: 3 pm EDT/2 pm CDT/1 pm MDT/12 pm PDT

You will learn about blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and more!

Please RSVP to Kelly Stellrecht at with the date you plan to call in and spread the word!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

State Partner Spotlight: New Mexico

Our New Mexico partner, the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department (ALTSD), is hosting a series of community forums throughout their state next week. Elders and caregivers will share their personal challenges to making ends meet in the state, and give ideas on how to help New Mexico elders meet their basic needs.

Forums will take place in Albuquerque, Farmington, and Gallup. Check out the event flyers at the New Mexico Elder Economic Security Initiative web page for more information.

The New Mexico ALTSD develops programs and public policies that address the access and delivery of integrated programs and services to adults in need, older adults, and persons with disabilities throughout the state. The Department is charged with directing and managing an array of programs and services, which emphasize home- and community-based long-term care, healthy aging, and the prevention of adult abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

The information gathered at these forums will undoubtedly inform and strengthen the New Mexico Elder Economic Security Standard Index, to be released this summer.

Friday, April 30, 2010

WOW Remembers Dorothy Height

Yesterday, Dorothy Height, a civil rights activist for over seven decades, was laid to rest at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Throughout her life, Dorothy advocated for women’s equality and was a champion for social justice. She embodied the spirit of hope and her inspiring work will live well beyond her 98 years. WOW is thankful for her commitments to ensuring women’s rights are recognized and respected.

Read more about Dorothy Height’s extraordinary life in this Washington Post article.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wisconsin Partner Featured in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Our Wisconsin partner, the Wisconsin Women's Network, also had its op-ed on the Supplemental Poverty Measure featured in Journal Sentinel Online. Check it out!

Monday, April 19, 2010

WOW Launches New York Elder Initiative!

In Brooklyn tomorrow, advocates, researchers and service providers will rally around the release of new data on the real cost of living for seniors in New York State. The findings of the New York Elder Economic Security Standard Index™ (Elder Index), a new tool developed by Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) and the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, show that an older New Yorker needs between about $16,100 to over $42,700 to meet basic needs, depending on his or her housing and health status.

We all know it is expensive to live, let alone retire, in New York, particularly in the state’s urban areas. So, what makes the release of the Elder Index new news? And what makes it exciting news?

What’s new is the data itself – and, more importantly, the goal it establishes. Until now, there was no real measure of what it costs to age in place as a New Yorker. So, until today, policy makers, service providers, seniors and family caregivers have been making decisions, developing policies, providing services and supports and creating financial plans – all related to economic well-being of seniors - without a clearly defined goal in mind.

What’s exciting about the Elder Index is the opportunity it creates to do all of these things and more, better. Here are just a few examples of how the Elder Index will help better serve our seniors:

• Policy makers at the federal, state and local level can make more informed decisions about where to allocate scarce resources. The Elder Index shows that housing, health care and long-term care costs are the most significant expenses for retirees, thus helping policy makers see how critical it is to invest in and strengthen assistance for elders in these areas.

• Service providers can quantify the value of their programs and supports. For seniors living at incomes that fall short of the Elder Index, community-based services, like care management and home-delivered meals, are what allow elders to stay in their homes and communities, thus allowing service providers to demonstrate just how critical their programs are to closing the income gap.

• For workers and family caregivers, the Elder Index shows the importance of taking advantage of new programs, such as the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) provisions of health care reform – a benefit that will help today’s workers afford long-term care when they need it. The New York Elder Index shows that these costs can be catastrophic, adding from about $7,600 to $42,300 to a senior’s basic expenses.

After tomorrow's release, we can all do better by seniors in New York. With Elder Index data now available in ten states and plans to develop a national Elder Index, we will do better in more than just New York State alone. We will transform aging policies, programs and services with tomorrow's new, exciting news of economic security across the country.

Stacy Sanders, Director of the Elder Economic Security Initiative, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Op-Ed Published by WOW’s Wisconsin Partner on Measuring Poverty

Congrats to our Wisconsin partner, the Wisconsin Women's Network! It placed an op-ed in today's Cap Times on the development of a supplemental poverty measure announced by the U.S. Census Bureau last month.

Check out “A Better Way to Measure Poverty” and comment today.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Now Hiring: Field Manager

WOW is accepting applications for a Field Manager position in the Elder Economic Security Initiative (Initiative). The Field Manager will manage the delivery of strategic technical assistance and expertise to WOW’s state partners in the Initiative. The Field Manager will be responsible for developing and implementing a package of technical assistance services and materials to assist state and local advocates in promoting lifelong economic security.

Read the complete job description for more information.

Application Deadline: Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Health Care Reform: CLASS Act Now Law

Thanks to the hard work of elder advocates across the country, the Community Living Assistance Services & Supports (CLASS) became law after a decade long health care reform effort which culminated on Tuesday when the President signed the bill.

The provisions of the CLASS Act set up a voluntary long-term care insurance program in 2011 that will provide workers with an opportunity to save for their chronic health needs through monthly payroll deductions. The program will help those with significant functional disabilities afford services and supports in the community. As shown by the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), an elder’s long-term care costs can double or even triple what they need to make ends meet. The long-term care insurance program provides an option to assist in curbing these high costs for its participants.

Watch the Urban Institute’s “Implementation Health Care Reform” video for more information on the other components of the legislation.

Implementing Health Care Reform from Urban Institute on Vimeo.

Social Security Isn’t in “Crisis” – But Older Women Are.

This week, with health care reform passed, the New York Times speculated that Social Security, “the other big entitlement program,” would be the next big program to “tackle,” specifically within the context of reducing the nation’s debt. Reports followed that suggest the program is in crisis, despite the fact that predictions show Social Security can pay benefits in full until 2037.

With thirty years to attend to the program’s ability to pay benefits, there’s little evidence to suggest that Social Security is in trouble. On the contrary, there is real data that shows its beneficiaries, particularly older women, are in crisis. Though never intended to be the only source of income in retirement, many find themselves solely reliant upon Social Security as they age. In fact, Social Security provides more than 90 percent of income to three out of ten retired elders. And, due to time spent out of the workforce for caregiving and lower lifetime wages, women are even more dependent on Social Security.

Last year, the average annual Social Security payment was only $11,316 for an older woman. According to the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), a new measure of what it costs to age in place, a single elder who rents needs $20,248 to make ends meet, almost twice the average annual Social Security payment for women. Developed by Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) and the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, the Elder Index is a bare-bones measure of basic needs in retirement.

The data shows that, for older women, Social Security provides a life line. It offers a secure, reliable and necessary income base in retirement. But those who rely only on Social Security must make difficult sacrifices – such as choosing between groceries and essential medications or going without heat.

As Congress and the Administration take up the nation’s deficit, they ought to consider the real, day-to-day crisis of our nation’s older women. Doing so means making responsible choices to safeguard and strengthen Social Security benefits while addressing its long-term stability.

- Stacy Sanders, Director of the Elder Economic Security Initiative, WOW