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From the category archives: Aging Issues

Fulfilling Eleanor's Hope for America

This was originally posted at The Huffington Post by NCPSSM President/CEO Max Richtman

America’s longest-serving First Lady and social activist, Eleanor Roosevelt, would have celebrated her birthday this week.  There have been so many momentous changes in our nation during the fifty-plus years since her death.  Even so, one can’t help but wonder if we have truly fulfilled Eleanor’s hope for America, particularly when it comes to equity for women.

In so many ways, women have come a long way; however, American women are still lagging behind their male peers in too many significant measures. Retirement security is one of those areas where women still face a future marked by inequality.  That’s why we at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare have launched “Eleanor’s Hope,” a national initiative mobilizing women of all ages to advocate for income equality, retirement security and health protection. 

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

The demographic reality facing most American women simply can’t be ignored.  Women live longer than men, on average, yet their lifetime earnings are generally lower.  They are more likely to work in part-time jobs that don’t qualify for a retirement plan or interrupt their careers to take care of family.  The gender wage gap continues, meaning women earn only 78 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. Lower wages mean less is contributed to Social Security for their retirement.  The good news is more women are participating in pension and retirement savings plans than ever before.  The bad news is that the retirement savings gap persists.

According to the New School for Social Research, 75 percent of Americans nearing retirement have less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. Almost half of middle-class workers will be poor or near poor in retirement and living on a $5-per-day food budget. The National Institute for Retirement Security reports four out of five working families have retirement savings less than one times their annual income and 45 percent do not have any retirement assets at all.  The economic downturn was especially difficult for elderly women.  The latest census reports that nearly 2.6 million elderly women are living in poverty and 733,000 of those live in extreme poverty.  For women who live longer on lower benefits, America’s retirement crisis is very real.  That’s why the financial protection Social Security provides is even more critical for the millions of women who depend on this vital program to keep them from poverty.

Not only do women live longer than men they are also more likely to suffer from three or more chronic conditions including arthritis, hypertension and osteoporosis, making Medicare especially vital for older women. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that out-of-pocket spending in 2009 for Medicare beneficiaries 65 and older was $4,844 for women compared to $4,230 for men.  As beneficiaries age, out-of-pocket spending consumes a larger share of their income.  At age 85, total out-of-pocket spending for women was estimated to be $7,555 compared to $5,835 for men.  Clearly, the inequity women face in the workplace continues to follow them even into retirement.

 “The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us

should countenance anything which undermines it.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

There are ways to address these inequities if we can find the political will.  Our “Eleanor’s Hope” campaign will lead grassroots advocacy and education efforts in our communities and on Capitol Hill to build momentum in Congress to address these critical retirement issues.  Our goal is to raise awareness, recruit and train new activists and bolster Congressional leaders who are making a difference on women’s health and retirement security issues.  We’ll advocate for legislation that addresses the inequities threatening millions of retired women.  Some of our proposals for 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. 

If this sounds ambitious, it’s because it is.  However, just under 77 million baby boomers are retiring and more than half of them are women.  Too many will face retirement inequity and insecurity.  As we honor Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy this week and into the future, we must continue the work necessary to fulfill Eleanor’s hope for America.

“The future is literally in our hands to mold as we like. We cannot wait

until tomorrow. Tomorrow is now.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

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 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”

Why We Need to BOOST Social Security -- New CBS Poll Shows Retirement Still Elusive for Many

We’ve wasted years of political discourse led by a billion dollar Wall Street campaign to convince America we can’t afford a strong Social Security system.  While those like Alan Simpson, Pete Peterson and Paul Ryan, believe middle class families should foot the bill for trillions in tax breaks for huge corporations and the wealthiest among us, step outside Washington and Wall Street and it’s clear the average American disagrees. 

Our nation’s middle class continues to struggle and for older workers, the prospect of retirement remains elusive.  A new CBS poll describes the economic realities facing most Americans.

 “Seven of 10 Americans who haven't retired yet find it hard to save for retirement while also paying the bills and meeting their basic living expenses, a new CBS News poll shows. Not surprisingly, those earning less are having more difficulty setting money aside. More than 80 percent of people making less than $50,000 a year say it is hard to keep up with bills and save for retirement at the same time, and half say it is very hard.

"There is a segment of the population who cannot afford food and rent and to save for retirement, and they rationally choose rent and food over retirement savings," said Anthony Webb, senior research economist with Boston College's Center for Retirement Research.”

According to the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a sizable percentage of workers report they have virtually no savings and investments. More than a third (36 percent) of retired civilian workers say they have less than $1,000 (up from 28 percent in 2013). A quarter of workers and 17 percent of retirees indicate that their current level of debt is higher than it was five years ago.  The CBS poll received similar responses:

“But the country's troubling shortfall in retirement savings isn't confined to lower-income earners. More than 60 percent of those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 a year say it is hard to save for retirement, according to the telephone poll of more than 1,000 adults around the U.S.”

Social Security remains the only stable source of income for many families who are still rebuilding after our nation’s recent brush with economic collapse.  This is exactly why it’s time to shift the debate to where it should have been all along...boosting benefits. 

Building upon the growing public support for expanding Social Security, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) has launched the Boost Social Security Now education campaign to inform and mobilize our membership, grassroots networks and on-line communities to convince Congress that now is the time to boost benefits, not cut them.  

Please take a moment and join our growing movement.  Call Congress, Write a Letter and Sign our Petition telling Washington Now’s the time to Boost Social Security!

How About Giving the Truth about Social Security "Equal Time"

Attempts to reignite the intergenerational warfare campaign against Social Security --  led by the billion dollar austerity lobby -- seem to have hit a new high.  Alternet highlights just a few of the recent instances:

A string of recent examples—rants [3] from MSNBC’s wealthy young commentator, a notorious elderly-attacking [4] House candidate, think tanks promoted [5] on NPR—generational warfare cheerleaders are proclaiming that America is heading toward an epic and immoral conflict as better-off seniors are robbing millennials of shrinking federal dollars because retirement programs cost too much. That’s simply false, as Social Security is solvent [6] through 2033, and spending on all mandatory programs as a percentage of GDP is close to [7] where it’s been since 1975, at 21 percent. 

This line of attack isn’t in a political vacuum. It comes as some Democrats are reframing [8] the debate on Social Security and campaigning [9] for increased benefits. Nor is it a new argument, as a right-wing club of libertarians, Wall Street bankers and deficit hawks have tried for decades to undermine and privatize the program.

For MSNBC’s, Abby Hunstman, this is the second time in as many weeks that she’s taken to the airwaves with a monologue chock-full of errors and political rhetoric heavy of drama and light on the facts.  NCPSSM’s Equal Time, joined the Los Angeles Times and others in pointing out just a few of those errors in her first attempt to “educate” millennials:

Millennials Face Big Problems – Abby Hunstman, MSNBC

 “Here’s the reality, at the rate we’re spending, the system (Social Security) will be bankrupt by the time you and I are actually eligible to get these benefits.”

“We can’t afford it.”

“While we’re living two decades longer we haven’t made any changes.”

MSNBC anchor Abby Huntsman (daughter of GOP Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman) clearly misunderstands Social Security’s funding  and twists both life expectancy data and worker ratios to the breaking point to build a false case for cutting Social Security benefits for millennials.   Contrary to Huntsman’s claims, there is not a single scenario or economic projection in which Social Security goes bankrupt, most  Americans aren’t living 20 years longer and there have been numerous reforms to Social Security in the past,  including raising the retirement age.

If Washington does nothing at all by the time the Trust Fund is depleted in 2033, millennials and generations after them will receive a 25% benefit cut.  Huntsman urges raising the retirement age to 70-75 on top of that which means an even larger benefit cut for our children and grandchildren.  Unfortunately, rather than educating her fellow millennials with the facts,  her “fix” for Social Security comes straight from the multi-billion dollar anti-entitlement lobby’s talking points.   There are ways to fill the funding gap without hitting future generations with huge benefit cuts. Rather than gutting Social Security under the guise of “fixing it”, Congress should lift the payroll tax cap and enact other meaningful reforms to strengthen the program for future generations. 

Inexplicably, rather than address her mistakes Huntsman then chose to double-down on them with a second error-laden missive.  Michael Hiltzik with the Los Angeles Times tried, a second time, to help her with the “basic math” she claims to understand:

Huntsman complained that I called her out for asking how we're going to pay the rising costs of the health and social insurance programs, as though "even raising the question means you're automatically anti-Social Security or against the elderly."

No. I called her out for raising the question using bogus numbers, such as life-expectancy rates from birth, which have risen sharply since the '30s but aren't relevant to Social Security's fiscal health. Instead, the key figure is life expectancy from age 65, which hasn't risen very sharply. (Huntsman appears to accept this point.)

Huntsman offered several possible remedies for rising costs in these programs -- means-testing benefits, increasing the retirement age, raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65 -- and complained that we're not even debating these options.

That's where she really goes off the rails. We have been debating those options, for years. They've all been studied, measured, calculated and scored. The reason they haven't been implemented is that none of them is simple. None of those she listed would have an appreciable positive effect on the fiscal health of the programs, and some, such as raising the Medicare eligibility age, might make the overall federal budget picture worse.

Economist Dean Baker also gave it a try:

“The far greater risk to the living standards to the people of Huntsman's generation is the risk that we will continue to see the upward redistribution of income over the next three decades that we have seen over the last three decades. As a result of this upward redistribution of income, people like Ms. Huntsman's father have benefited enormously, while most workers have seen little or none of the gains from economic growth. If this pattern continues then most people in Ms. Huntsman's cohort will not fare well financially even if we eliminated their Social Security taxes altogether.”

So Huntsman continues to take her cues directly from the billion dollar Wall Street campaign to paint Social Security & Medicare as the biggest threat to future generations while ignoring the income inequality which will curse millennials for a lifetime.  


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