Opinion

To Strengthen Retirement Security, Close the Pay Gap

The gender pay gap that shapes many women’s working lives also takes a huge bite out of their Social Security benefits.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has served as the U.S. Representative for Connecticut's 3rd District since 1991.
National Journal
Rep. Rosa L. Delauro
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Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro
Aug. 5, 2014, 1 a.m.

For mil­lions of wo­men in Amer­ica, So­cial Se­cur­ity amounts to the dif­fer­ence between health and hun­ger. It provides a ma­jor­ity of the in­come that six in 10 wo­men age 65 or older rely upon to meet their ba­sic needs. For three in eight older wo­men liv­ing alone, it provides vir­tu­ally all — 90 per­cent or more — of their total in­come. But the gender pay gap that shapes many wo­men’s work­ing lives takes a huge bite out of their So­cial Se­cur­ity be­ne­fits. To strengthen So­cial Se­cur­ity’s fin­ances and wo­men’s re­tire­ment se­cur­ity, we need to close the wage gap for good.

Right now, wo­men make less than men in nearly every oc­cu­pa­tion for which wage data are tracked. One year out of col­lege, wo­men are paid 18 per­cent less than their male coun­ter­parts. Ten years out of col­lege, the wage gap leaves wo­men earn­ing 31 per­cent less.

Over a 35-year ca­reer, these earn­ings dis­crep­an­cies swell to ex­ceed­ingly large sums. Across the en­tire work­force, the av­er­age ca­reer-long pay gap is $434,000. For col­lege-edu­cated wo­men, the pay de­fi­cit av­er­ages $654,000.

These dis­par­it­ies have a pro­found im­pact on wo­men’s eco­nom­ic se­cur­ity, both dur­ing their work­ing years and in re­tire­ment. In 2012, wo­men over 65 re­ceived an av­er­age So­cial Se­cur­ity be­ne­fit of $12,520, com­pared with $16,396 for men. Wo­men of col­or are doubly dis­ad­vant­aged due to the com­bined ef­fects of the gender pay gap and ra­cial or eth­nic pay dis­par­it­ies. Afric­an-Amer­ic­an wo­men re­ceive an av­er­age So­cial Se­cur­ity be­ne­fit of $11,974, and His­pan­ic wo­men only $10,500. Is it any won­der that twice as many wo­men as men over the age of 65 live in poverty?

Along with help­ing to keep a lar­ger share of the coun­try’s fu­ture seni­or cit­izens out of poverty, clos­ing the gender pay gap would also strengthen So­cial Se­cur­ity’s fin­ances. Ac­cord­ing to a study by the In­sti­tute for Wo­men’s Policy Re­search, wo­men would have earned an ad­di­tion­al $448 bil­lion in 2012 if the gender pay gap were closed. Most of this in­come would be sub­ject to So­cial Se­cur­ity payroll con­tri­bu­tions — po­ten­tially in­creas­ing the pro­gram’s rev­en­ue by tens of bil­lions of dol­lars each year, and re­du­cing its long-term short­fall by roughly one-third.

I have in­tro­duced the Paycheck Fair­ness Act in every Con­gress since 1997. By bring­ing pay-dis­crim­in­a­tion law in­to line with oth­er civil rights law and giv­ing teeth to the Equal Pay Act, I be­lieve that it would help to en­sure a simple prin­ciple: same job, same pay. It has twice passed the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives with bi­par­tis­an sup­port, and come only two votes shy of gain­ing Sen­ate ap­prov­al. I see the Paycheck Fair­ness Act as a cru­cial part of the com­pre­hens­ive eco­nom­ic agenda for wo­men and fam­il­ies that my Demo­crat­ic col­leagues and I have put for­ward this year. And, over the long term, it would strengthen the So­cial Se­cur­ity pro­gram on which so many Amer­ic­ans de­pend.

So­cial Se­cur­ity is a bed­rock in­sti­tu­tion of Amer­ic­an life, and the ul­ti­mate le­gis­lat­ive ex­pres­sion of our shared na­tion­al val­ues. As soon as it be­came law, the poverty rate among seni­ors began to drop. That demon­strated the pro­found pos­it­ive im­pact that good policy can have on fam­il­ies’ eco­nom­ic se­cur­ity. But to make sure it is provid­ing a se­cure and dig­ni­fied re­tire­ment to all Amer­ica’s work­ers, we need to make sure wo­men are be­ing paid what they are due.

Passing the Paycheck Fair­ness Act in­to law will do ex­actly that.

Rep. Rosa De­Lauro, D-Conn., has rep­res­en­ted Con­necti­c­ut’s 3rd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict since 1991. Her dis­trict in­cludes New Haven and most of its sub­urbs.

HAVE AN OPIN­ION ON POLICY AND CHAN­GING DEMO­GRAPH­ICS? The Next Amer­ica wel­comes op-ed pieces that ex­plore the polit­ic­al, eco­nom­ic, and so­cial im­pacts of the pro­found ra­cial and cul­tur­al changes fa­cing our na­tion, par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant to edu­ca­tion, eco­nomy, the work­force, and health. In­ter­ested in sub­mit­ting a piece? Email Jan­ell Ross at jross@na­tion­al­journ­al.com with a brief pitch. Please fol­low us onTwit­ter andFace­book.

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