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