Social Security privatization is a vital issue for all women

Posted: Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system in which today's workers, myself included, are paying the benefits of current recipients. But the benefits reach more than just retirees. One third of the total 48 million recipients are widows, widowers and people with disabilities. Seven million recipients are the spouses and children of deceased workers. For 25 percent of older women living alone, Social Security is their only source of income. Without that monthly check, half of all women older than 65 would be poor.

Opponents calculate that privatization would put all future Social Security beneficiaries at risk of diminished payments. For women, who comprise 60 percent of all beneficiaries, privatization would be disastrous.

Privatization is based on the assumption that the stock market will continue its upward spiral and deliver higher returns for retirees than would the current Social Security system, but women have less money, earn less than men, and need to take fewer risks. Social Security may not be perfect, but it's a progressive system, replacing a greater percentage of earnings for low-income workers than for those with high incomes.

Many women leave the workforce to raise children or care for elderly parents, so their own record of earnings is often low. But the system provides spousal benefits to women whose husbands had higher lifetime earnings. It's another component of Social Security that would be lost or diluted under a different system.

Privatization threatens the disability and life insurance components of Social Security. Women are 98 percent of the spouses or survivors receiving those benefits. Under one proposal a woman would have to purchase such coverage from private insurers, which would be costly and may not cover people with pre-existing conditions.

Despite all the changes in women's work-force participation, millions of women will still need to depend on Social Security to keep their heads above water. Women who work full-time earn just 75 percent of men's income. Women live longer than men, making them more dependent on monthly benefits.

For the 75-year cost of George W.'s tax-cut agenda, the United States could erase the entire 75-year, $3.7 trillion shortfall in Social Security more than three times over. But then his wealthy friends would not get their tax cut.

George W. does not have women's security in mind when he talks about privatizing Social Security. Women, please don't think it is a problem for the past generation, and that you will be all right because you work. With the big increase in divorce and never-married women, female poverty will be just as prominent but for different reasons. This is not a generational debate; this is a gender debate.

• Janet Kussart is a Juneau resident.

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