By Kristin Maschka
Monday, May 9, 2005
The Social Security debate is all wrong. Instead of asking whether it should be saved or shelved, Kristin Maschka says we should be looking for ways to update a system that does a disservice to women, particularly those who are caretakers.
Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Tomorrow, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other congresswomen--Hilda Solis, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Lois Capps--will host a forum in Washington, D.C., to air out the reasons for preserving Social Security, in the name of women, from President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security.
Someone asked me which I would choose, Social Security or private accounts. I said neither, because both need fixing in order to fairly protect mothers.
Social Security is the only option for protecting those who sacrifice earnings to care for others. But let's remember that Social Security--for all that it might do to protect many women--is far from perfect in its treatment of women.
Historical documents make it clear that the council that constructed Social Security in the late 1930s purposefully chose to discourage women from working outside the home, to reward married men by giving them a bonus if they had a "dependent" wife, to encourage men to work by linking benefit levels to years worked and income earned.
The council--which included women--wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: Women should stay married since their economic security was tied to their status as a dependent of a wage-earning husband.
The Social Security Council was a product of its time. One participant noted approvingly that the proposal on the table would "take away the urge" of married women to go back to work and "compete with single women."
Another member defended the proposal to provide benefits to wives "in that you are doing something real for the man" because he would receive more income.
Another argued for lesser benefits for widows since a single woman can live more cheaply than a single man because "she is used to doing her own housework whereas the single man has to go out to a restaurant."
All of this can be found in verbatim accounts of all the meetings of the Federal Advisory Council that produced the 1939 amendments to the Social Security Act.
The proposal ultimately submitted to Congress used the terms "husband," "he" and "him" when referring to an individual eligible for "primary insurance benefits," and the terms "wife," "she" and "her" when referring to "wife's insurance benefits."
Even the checks for the "wife's insurance benefits" went to the husband not the wife.
Sixty-five years later, after a sea change in the number of employed women, the number of divorces and the perception of women as independent citizens, we are still living with both the old values and the results.
Most married women who are employed at some point in their lives make contributions to Social Security bu