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From the category archives: Retirement

Poorer, Older and Sicker: The Challenges Facing America's Senior Women

New Women's Initiative Focuses on Income Inequality, Health and Retirement Security

“Eleanor’s Hope” continues Roosevelt legacy of social progress
 

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare was joined by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI), NOW President Terry O’Neill and Tufts Health Plan President/CEO, James Roosevelt, Jr. on a press call today to announce the launch of a new national initiative called Eleanor’s Hope, to help bring an end to the disparity between men’s and women’s income, health and retirement security.

“The National Committee is excited to launch the “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative today with the support of many influential allies and Members of Congress. Women have a lot at stake in November’s election and beyond.  Through grassroots advocacy and education in our communities and on Capitol Hill, the “Eleanor’s Hope” project will raise awareness, recruit and train new activists, highlight female leaders who are making a difference and generate national interest in women’s health and retirement security issues leading up to the 2014 and 2016 elections.”... Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

The National Committee was founded in 1982 by Eleanor & Franklin Roosevelt’s son, former Congressman James Roosevelt. It is that Roosevelt heritage, and in the spirit of Eleanor’s work on women’s and social issues, that this new project will honor her name.

“Social Security has contributed to the financial well-being of almost every American family and is among my grandparents’ greatest legacies. My grandmother’s activism for women’s equity, poverty prevention and other social issues was based on her boundless optimism that the American people could move mountains if only freed from the fear of want and destitution.  Her hope has yet to be fully realized for too many Americans -- I believe the Eleanor’s Hope initiative will help to change that.”.... James Roosevelt, Jr., President/CEO Tufts Health Plan & Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandson 

While Social Security is a program that is vitally important to all Americans, it is especially important to the financial security of women. Not only do women, on average, live longer than men they also earn less in Social Security benefits. These fiscal realities facing millions of American women increase the risk that they may outlive their savings, impoverishing them and their families.

"We are on the front edge of a retirement crisis, which means that protecting and expanding Social Security is an increasingly important part of improving retirement security. Because women earn less than men, they are more vulnerable in retirement.  I’m happy the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is focusing on this issue through the Eleanor's Hope initiative," Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said. "For nearly half of women age 65 and older, Social Security is all that stands between them and poverty. We must keep our commitment to our seniors by strengthening Social Security, so that after a lifetime of hard work, everyone has a chance to retire with dignity.”

“The time is now to address and improve the fiscal outlook for Social Security and extend the solvency of the system. Women, people of color and low-income families are counting on us to update and improve this critical social safety net. This is why the National Committee’s 'Eleanor’s Hope' initiative is so vital. Through advocacy, recruitment, and training programs, America’s female leaders are given a valuable platform to raise awareness around the health and retirement security issues of our American women and girls. I'm proud to be a part of this important effort.”... Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) 

When it comes to the issues of retirement security and gender equity, the differences in policy choices offered by candidates are stark.  The future of generations of women and their families depend on providing income equality during their working years and strong Social Security and Medicare programs in their retirement, so women have a lot at stake in these upcoming elections. 

Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in nearly half of all families in the U.S. -- yet two-thirds of minimum wage workers, and nearly 80 percent of sub-minimum wage tipped workers, are women.  Candidates for office need to realize that women, along with the men in their lives, will vote for those who support wage equality and policies that ensure their retirement security.”...Terry O’Neill, NOW President

The goal of Eleanor’s Hope is to raise awareness through community–based and on-line education, recruit and train new activists, and bolster Congressional leaders who are making a difference on women’s income, health and retirement security issues.  We’ll advocate for legislation that addresses the inequities threatening millions of retired women.  Some of the National Committee’s proposals for improving benefits in Social Security and Medicare include:

  • Providing Social Security credits for caregivers
  • Improving Social Security survivor benefits
  • Equalizing Social Security’s rules for disabled widows
  • Strengthening the Social Security Cost of Living Allowance
  • Boosting the basic Social Security benefit of all current and future beneficiaries
  • Building on preventive care provisions in the Affordable Care Act and expanding coordination of care for beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions.
  • Generating greater savings on the cost of prescription drugs by increasing manufacturer discounts, allowing Medicare to receive the same drug rebates as Medicaid for dual-eligibles, and promoting lower drug costs by providing for faster development of generic drugs. 

The National Committee will hold a Congressional staff briefing, Tuesday, October 14th, on the issues and policy prescriptions needed to address the income inequality, retirement insecurity and health inequities facing women. Then on October 15th we’ll join members of the nation’s only all-female Congressional delegation in New Hampshire to talk about the “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative.  Nationwide, our activists are already in the field educating, advocating and collecting “Eleanor’s Hope” pledges from women who have promised to get out and vote in November and beyond.  We’ve also engaged our membership and active on-line communities to convince Washington that now’s the time to address the retirement crisis facing millions of American women and their families.

Social Security Resumes Statement Mailings

We were happy to find this in our email box today:

Dear Colleague:

I am pleased to announce that, beginning this month, we are resuming periodic mailings of paper Social Security Statements to workers age 18 and older.  Even though most workers will receive a mailing every 5 years, we encourage everyone to create a secure my Social Security account at socialsecurity.gov/myaccount, which will allow them immediate access to their online Statement anytime.

The Statement is a valuable financial planning tool providing workers with important individualized information regarding their earnings, tax contributions, and estimates for future retirement, disability and survivors benefits.

Please read the full press release, including a statement by Social Security’s Acting Commissioner, Carolyn W. Colvin, here.

Thank you for your continued support as we strive to keep workers informed about Social Security. Please help us encourage all workers to sign up for a my Social Security account to regularly review their earnings record and obtain estimates of future benefits for themselves and their families.

We've long advocated for the resumption of mailing paper statements to the many seniors who don't have access to or fluency on the internet and are thankful the SSA has resumed these mailings. 

Social Security and Hispanic Americans

Social Security protects millions of American families in retirement or when a loved one becomes disabled or dies.  These guaranteed benefits are especially important to people of color who tend to have fewer alternative resources, become disabled at higher rates, and rely on Social Security's family benefits disproportionately.

As we mark Hispanic Heritage month in September it’s important to understand the vital role Social Security plays in the lives of Hispanic Americans.

Did you know?

  • Almost three-fourths (74%) of Hispanic beneficiaries rely on Social Security for at least half their income compared to almost two-thirds (64%) of all beneficiaries.
  • Approximately 53% of Hispanic beneficiaries rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.
  • Approximately 46% of Hispanic beneficiaries rely on Social Security for all of their income.

Minorities rely more heavily on Social Security due to a lack of other income in retirement.  Few elderly minorities receive income from pensions and assets.  The greatest disparity is in the receipt of income from assets.

  • In 2012, 25% of Hispanics received income from private assets, compared with more than 55% of whites
  • In 2012, 13% of Hispanics 65 years old and over reported receiving income from private pensions or annuities, compared to 28% of whites 65 years old and older

Elderly Hispanics are more dependent on Social Security than others because they are more likely to be in poverty than non-Hispanic elderly.

Speakers at the 2014 Latino Retirement Security Summit addressed the importance Social Security plays in the Hispanic community and the need for Latinos to engage Congress on issues such as preserving Social Security, Medicare and immigration reform.  Contrary to immigration reform myths so common during campaign season, the truth is the Social Security program would benefit if undocumented immigrants were given legal status:

“The evidence is clear that the newly legalized will have a positive effect on the solvency of the Social Security system. On top of the many other positive impacts of bringing the undocumented out of the shadows, these results indicate that providing legal status and a pathway to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in this country would have a sizeable impact on the ability to provide full pensions to the Baby Boomers in the years to come.” Center for American Progress, “The Benefits of Immigration Reform to Social Security”

Social Security Made the Difference in Hawaii Senate Primary

Hawaii’s Democratic Senate primary win for Sen. Brian Schatz sends an important signal to candidates nationwide about the huge role Social Security can and will play in their Congressional re-election bids.  From the chained CPI to the Bowles-Simpson amendment, many centrist “new Democrats” like Hawaii’s Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, have quietly cast votes for proposals designed to cut benefits to millions of retirees, people with disabilities and their families, while at the same time promising to protect benefits back home.

In Rep. Hanabusa’s case, there were clear differences between her and opponent Sen. Brian Schatz on Social Security.  While Schatz supports boosting benefits and co-sponsors legislation to do that, Rep. Hanabusa voted in support of the Bowles-Simpson amendment to HR 444 which advocated for Social Security benefits cuts, raising the retirement age and deficit reduction through 75% in cuts an only 25% in revenue. The Bowles-Simpson plan would be disastrous for America’s families, which is why NCPSSM provided a rare primary endorsement to Senator Schatz:

“You understand, too, that Social Security benefits are earned and that this most successful social insurance program ever should not—must not!—be undermined as some have proposed by cutting benefits.  You appreciate that Social Security has not contributed one dime to the nation’s debt and proposals to raise the retirement age and reduce the annual cost-of-living adjustment in the name of bipartisanship would be disastrous to Americans of all ages.  You have underscored your commitment to Social Security by joining with Senate colleagues supporting the “Strengthening Social Security Act” and opposing the oft-cited “chained Consumer Price Index.” NCPSSM Endorsement Letter to Sen. Bryan Schatz, May 27, 2014

Senator Schatz isn’t the only candidate who understands just how disconnected Washington has become from the majority of Americans who -- across all ages and political parties -- oppose cutting Social Security.

Two Democrats in tough Senate races — Mark Begich and Jeff Merkley – have already staked out aggressive postures on expanding Social Security. It’s also supported by Elizabeth Warren and Tom Harkin, and 70 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Expanding Social Security would have to be paid for by lifting or changing the cap or some other means, which could leave Dems vulnerable to charges they are raising taxes. But Brown brushed off that worry. “Democrats win the argument by saying Republicans again are cutting taxes on the rich to deny Social Security beneficiaries the expanded Social Security they should get and have earned,” Brown said. “Most of us should be willing to make that argument.”  Washington Post, May 2014

Until now, too many in Congress have not been willing to make that argument and refocus its attention on the retirement deficit facing millions of working Americans.  Hopefully, the Hawaii experience will change all that.

Supreme Court Decision Bad News for Seniors Who Depend on Home Health Care Providers

While the headlines today will likely focus on the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, seniors should also be paying close attention to the first ruling issued by the Court this morning. Today’s Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn could have devastating effects on America’s home health system by driving down already low wages and reducing the basic rights of workers in one of our nation’s fastest growing job sectors – home health services.

There are nearly 2 million home health care providers in the United States, and as our nation ages it is expected that more than 5 million providers will be needed in the next five years. Even though these workers are vital to our economy, providing services that allow seniors and people with disabilities to live at home and avoid the costs of institutionalization, these workers are usually paid poverty-level wages with no benefits. 

“America needs a stable, qualified home care workforce to meet the growing need for home care in our nation; however, today’s Supreme Court ruling stands in the way of making that goal a reality.  This ruling could drive down wages, which are already less than poverty level for many home care workers, while also keeping them isolated in their jobs with little job security. Ultimately, it’s America’s families which suffer when we compromise the access and quality of home care to seniors, people with disabilities and children.  This ruling takes us backwards rather than making progress toward the goal of building a vibrant and growing home care workforce ensuring that seniors and people with disabilities can live in dignity in their own homes.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

“Today’s Supreme Court decision does not dampen the resolve of home care workers and child care providers to come together to have a strong voice for good jobs and to give care to millions of seniors, people with disabilities and children,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders. The ruling places at risk a system of consumer-directed home care that has proved successful in raising wages, providing affordable care and increasing training. The number of elderly Americans will increase dramatically in the coming years. Child care workers make it possible for working parents to support their families without the agony of trying to juggle their jobs and their kids. States need to build a stable, qualified workforce to meet the growing need for home care and child care – and having a strong union for care providers is the approach that has proven most effective."...AFSME Statement

The Center for American Progress provides this background on how this case made to the Court in the first place:

Harris arises from a group of home-based aides for Medicaid patients in Illinois, a majority of whom voted to unionize. When a majority of a workforce, but not every single worker, votes to be represented by a union, the union is still required to represent the interests of the non-union workers. That means all workers must be treated equally at the bargaining table — a union cannot entice workers into joining the union by bargaining for one set of wages for union members and another, lower set of wages for non-members.

By any reasonable objective measure, the union struck a very good deal for Illinois’ home health aides. Before the union negotiated a collective bargaining agreement, the aides’ wages were just $7.00 an hour. Now they are $11.65 an hour, and they are scheduled to increase to $13.00 per hour in December. Nevertheless, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWLDF), an anti-union litigation shop, found a handful of home health aides who object to this arrangement. Those objectors are now the plaintiffs in Harris.

And the Nation provides this analysis: 

The ruling claws back on the real material gains that collective bargaining won for homecare workers. Outside of Illinois’s state program, workers in the sector typically earn around $20,000 per year and suffer tremendously stressful, often exploitative working conditions. Only last year did they officially become eligible for federal minimum wage and overtime rules, following a hard-fought campaign by domestic workers’ advocates to end the Labor Department’s longstanding exemption for homecare providers.

Illinois health aides, by contrast, made real progress after joining SEIU as direct employees of the state. Part of a national campaign to unionize the sector, the workers collectively bargained for higher wages and labor protections typical of union workers but long denied to other health aides, including health benefits and training.

The AFL-CIO had this reaction:

The extreme views of today’s Supreme Court aimed at home care workers aren’t just bad for unions – they’re bad for all workers and the middle class. But the attacks on the freedom of workers to come together are nothing new. They are part of an onslaught from anti-worker organizations hostile to raising wages or improving benefits for millions of people.  These attacks are a direct cause of an economy in which middle class families can’t get a break because their wages have stagnated and their incomes have declined.

Home care is one of the fastest growing industries. Its workers do backbreaking, thankless work, often for low wages. By forming a union these workers are helping to combat income inequality and the rise of low wage jobs, ensuring that these are good jobs with good benefits.

Make no mistake: the fate of workers cannot and will not be decided by one Supreme Court decision. The Court upheld the right of public employees to have strong unions and workers will vigorously build on that foundation.

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