By Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization of Women
Social Security, one of our country’s most important and successful social insurance programs, is especially vital to women, who would be disproportionately harmed by the cuts in benefits some in Washington are now proposing. The “three-legged stool of retirement” is meant to consist of a pension, personal savings, and Social Security. But all too often, women have neither a pension nor savings. In fact, fewer than one in three women has income from a pension. Moreover, after a lifetime of wage discrimination, women are far more likely than men to have little in the way of personal savings. The situation for women of color is particularly dire. According to a recent report by the Insight Center, women of color often have no personal savings, or even negative net worth, as they head into retirement. As a result, Social Security is the mainstay for millions of older women. Every year, a major share of the nearly 24 million women age 62 and older who receive benefits are kept out of poverty because of Social Security. Often that monthly Social Security check is their only income. The members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform must act responsibly and reject any effort to reduce entitlement program benefits — now or in the future. Raising the retirement age to 70 would be an especially cruel benefit cut, forcing a hardship on millions of women (and men) who have physically demanding jobs, as our sister organization the Older Women’s League (OWL) has found. If anything, Social Security benefits should be improved — especially for elderly women, because many exhaust their savings as they grow older, and for disabled, divorced and never-married women who have had modest incomes and have been unable to save and invest for retirement. Reducing benefits for these women would be calamitous. Rather than cutting Social Security and putting millions of women’s financial security at risk, the Fiscal Commission should address the real causes of the deficit — unfunded wars, irresponsible tax breaks for the wealthiest, and an economic crisis caused by financial regulatory failures. Women are watching the commissioners, but will we be invisible to them?