Report: 60% of Older Women Can't Afford Basics

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The annual income of the typical older woman was $14,000 in 2010, compared with the older man's $24,300, finds a March 29 report from Wider Opportunities for Women. More elderly women live alone, which contributes to their financial insecurity.

(WOMENSENEWS)--About 60 percent of American women over age 65 lack sufficient income to cover basic living expenses, compared with 41 percent of men, according to a study released today by Wider Opportunities for Women, a Washington-based organization that works to improve the economic security for women and families.

Using the Elder Economic Security Standard Index, which defines the basic expenses facing retired adults over the age of 65, the organization's researchers found that an older adult required from $19,100 to $29,000 a year, depending on the individual's housing situation. Forty-nine percent of white women and 61 percent of older Asian women were unable to meet their monthly expenses for housing, food, health care and other necessities. Three out of four African-American and Hispanic women had insufficient funds.

"These numbers not only show the troubling number of women who are struggling financially in retirement, but also bring to light the impact of systematic economic inequality that follows women for their whole lives," said Donna Addkison, president and CEO of WOW, as the organization is called. WOW crafts non-traditional employment, job training and educational programs for women. "Issues like wage disparity, occupational segregation and discrimination are not problems isolated to the work force. These are injustices that affect all of us, our children and our grandchildren."

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The report found that the annual income of the typical older woman was $14,000, compared with $24,300 for men. Retirement income of women was less because they had worked in low-wage industries and were paid less in male-dominated fields.

Women's caregiving also took a toll. Because they took time off to raise families and care for parents and other relatives, their lifetime earnings are lower. In addition, women were less likely to have income from pensions. Only 36 percent of older women had income from a retirement plan or pension, compared with 52 percent of older men. The pension of the typical man exceeded the typical women's by $5,700 a year.

The study indicated that women were more reliant on Social Security. Among those living alone, Social Security payments constituted 59 percent of older men's total income, on average, compared with 77 percent of women's income.

While older women rely on Social Security for the bulk of their income, they typically receive smaller annual payments: median women's payments lagged behind men's by $4,500 per year.

WOW compared 2010 incomes for older people who lived alone or with a partner to the Elder Index, which looks beyond the federal poverty level to account for the actual costs of housing, food, transportation, personal items and health care.

The Elder Index takes into account local differences in the cost of living, providing the most accurate picture of what adults in every part of the country need to have economic security. Older adults with inadequate incomes are often forced to choose among basic needs, including medications, nutritious food and adequate heating and cooling.

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If you work at home taking care of the family, married over 10 years, then get divorced and go out to work, you cannot collect social security for both the work during marriage AND what you earn later. But public employees can collect two pensions. No wonder older women are poor.