Economy/Economic Policy

Default Fears Clip Fight for Women's Retirement

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

As a U.S. government default deadline looms, last-minute deal-making is intensifying the threats to Social Security, the retirement program upon which women disproportionately depend, particularly African American women and Latinas.

(WOMENSENEWS)--In these white-knuckle days ahead of a threatened Aug. 2 default by the U.S. government, women's advocates are more worried than ever about the fate of Social Security, the public retirement program upon which women disproportionately depend.

"Although Social Security has not contributed one penny to the national debt and will be able to pay all promised benefits in full for the next 25 years and three-fourths of benefits after that, the White House and Congress have put it on the bargaining table," said Cynthia Hounsell, president of the Washington-based Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, known as WISER, in a recent telephone interview.

In his Monday night TV speech, President Barack Obama pushed Republicans to offer up revenue increases that Democrats want--such as tax increases for the wealthiest Americans--in exchange for cuts to programs such as Social Security.

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Leaders of the House and Senate on Monday also offered newly urgent competing plans to cut the deficit, making it more likely that retirement-age cuts to Social Security that were staved off in 2010 could be looming again in the last-minute deal-making.

"Last year, women's groups were successful in defeating the proposal by the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to raise the retirement age for full Social Security benefits to 69," said Hounsell, whose nonprofit provides financial information for low- and moderate-income women ages 18 to 65.

"Lawmakers agreed with us that the change would be particularly punishing to low-income workers in physically demanding jobs," she said. "But now opponents of Social Security are claiming that everyone must make financial sacrifices to ensure the nation's fiscal health so these issues may be back on the table."

Obama's emphasis on "shared sacrifice" in his confrontational speech on Monday was meant to call out greater revenue contributions from the country's wealthiest individuals and corporations.

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