The promise of America from one generation to the next is a simple one: After a lifetime of hard and rewarding work, Americans can expect to enjoy a secure retirement.
But for a growing number of us, especially women, making good on that promise has become nearly impossible.
As we mark Equal Pay Day on April 14, it’s important to recognize that gender discrimination in pay isn’t just a workplace issue. When women make only 78 cents to every dollar men earn, it has a lasting impact over a woman’s lifetime. It’s easy to see why women don’t have the same kinds of savings to retire on. In fact, women are almost twice as likely as men to retire into poverty.
Americans have made it clear that economic issues affecting women are among their top concerns — and we’re starting to have a real nationwide conversation about these issues. Now we need to make sure that conversation follows women out of the workplace and into retirement, when many Americans are financially vulnerable.
Elected officials across the country need to bring discussion of retirement security to the forefront, and make sure that women are front and center in it.
A December report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that the current median in a 401(k) savings account is just north of $18,000. And the median retirement income for women in 2010 was just 59% that of men, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Women in the public sector fare slightly better. In states that offer defined benefit pension plans, women who retire from public service live off a modest but stable $18,000 a year on average.
A recent poll by the National Institute of Retirement Security found that a vast majority of Americans — 86% — believe the nation is facing a retirement crisis. Nearly 75% of Americans are concerned about their ability to achieve a secure retirement.
That’s why Americans — particularly women — need elected officials and thought leaders to introduce and support comprehensive proposals that address the years of our lives when we’re most economically vulnerable.
A few officials across the country are already beginning to lead on this issue, and we’ll need more to follow. Last year in Minnesota, the governor signed the Women’s Economic Security Act into law, which is designed to ensure that women and men are paid equally for their work and receive the same workplace protections, including in retirement. The law requires the state to explore retirement savings options for employees who don’t have them.
While some are leading the way and working to propose solutions that will improve Americans’ prospects for a secure retirement, others are working to undermine the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of workers with reforms that would gut steady and reliable public pensions systems.
With women making up 48% of workers in the public sector nationally and 59.5%t in state and local government, these attacks have had an outsized impact on the retirement security of women.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would work to end gender discrimination in pay, is a good first step to leveling the playing field in retirement. But we still have a long way to go. To finally make good on the promise of the American dream, we need a long-term, comprehensive strategy to solve retirement insecurity. The future of women’s economic security depends on it.
Kate Black is executive director at American Women, an affiliated organization of EMILY’s List. Bailey Childers is the executive director of the National Public Pension Coalition.