When people speak about retirement and security, women often get overlooked, but they are one of the most vulnerable segments of society.
By the end of their careers, some of the inequity women face gets worse, said Bailey Childers, executive director of the National Public Pension Coalition. They are paid 78 cents to the dollar, which means decreased Social Security payments and retirement benefits.
Women are also more likely to take off work to have babies, raise children and care for family members, she said.
When you look at the inequity of pay over their lifetime and time off, by the time they get to retirement they have 59% of the savings that men have, according to the GAO, she said. Women live longer than men, which spirals into a bigger problem in retirement.
Cindy Hounsell, president of the Womens Institute for a Secure Retirement or WISER, said that part of the problem is that a lot of corporate communication budgets are going to educate workers about health care since the Affordable Care Act was implemented.
Those budgets are never huge anyway, she said.
Hounsell realizes that employers do what they can with what they have, but encourages them to at least communicate some readily available retirement tools to their plan participants. The Department of Labor offers a number of good planning tools that can help people prioritize their spending and find ways to save more for retirement.
It is universally accepted that women need more money for retirement. They have less, Hounsell said.
Many men get upset if a company tailors some of its financial education to women, but she points out that every man has lived with a woman at some point: a grandmother, a mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter.
Women live longer. There are 6 million more women than men at age 65. At 85, we still have almost 2 million more women than men, she said. We all need to care about that. As a society, we dont want to see all of these older women with no income. We all have a vested interest.
In the public pension world, women make up 48% of the workforce in the public sector.
Since the start of the great recession, weve seen battles where lawmakers try to gut public pension plans. This is getting right at their public security and their ability to support their families in retirement, Childers said.
See also: What women want in retirement planning
Unfortunately, in the public sector, 401(k) plans have been a poor substitute for defined benefit pension plans, she said. The average balance in a 401(k) is $18,000. Thats not going to get people far in retirement. Women are doing what they can, saving what they can, but we have to lean on employers to commit to their economic security with solutions that work. Pensions are a much better option than the other options on the table.
WISER looked at retirement planning and the challenges for minority women a few years ago. The organization found that despite the overall decline in poverty rates among older Americans the past several decades, many older women remain poor. When the study was conducted, nearly twice as many women were living in poverty in retirement as men.
According to Census numbers, the poverty rate for single Black women over the age of 65 was 38.5% and for Hispanic women was 41.1%, more than twice the rate of White women, WISER found.
Many women rely on Social Security as their main paycheck in retirement.
In fact, Social Security is the only source of retirement income for 59% of unmarried Black women and 58% of unmarried Hispanic women over age 65, WISER found.
With private and public pension plans going away, employees have had to rely more on Social Security, workplace-sponsored defined contribution plans or their own personal savings in retirement.
According to the Social Security Administration, the median earnings of working-age women in 2012 were $38,000, compared to $48,362 for men.
In 2012, the average annual Social Security income for women over the age of 65 was $12,520, compared to $16,398 for men. For unmarried women, including widows, Social Security comprised 50.4% of their total income. For unmarried elderly men, Social Security made up only 35.9% of their retirement income, Social Security reported.
The agency found that in 2012, nearly 50 percent of elderly unmarried women receiving Social Security benefits relied on Social Security for 90% or more of their income. Older women are much less likely than men to have access to pension plans. In 2012, only 22% of unmarried women over the age of 65 had their own private pension, compared to 27.7% of unmarried men.
On an up note, the number of women participating in workplace retirement plans is higher than the number of men participating in workplace plans.
Women generally receive lower pension benefits due to their relatively lower earnings, said the Social Security Administration.
Childers would like to see employers think more about the economic security of their women employees and their families. Being open to things they are not open to right now. Pensions arent what people use in the private sector. But the difference between a pension and a 401(k) is that a pension replaces income in retirement, it is not just a chunk of money they have to think about how to draw down, she said.
Employers should be thinking about how they can provide that replacement income in retirement.
I think things are heading in the right direction. As we recover from the Recession, plans are also starting to recover. Many plan participants are in better shape than they were after the Recession, Childers said.
Hounsell points out that women who have an opportunity to save through their workplace are better off than at least half the workforce, which doesnt have an opportunity or doesnt have an employer match.
She encourages women to attend any classes offered through their work that talk about financial planning, budgeting or saving for retirement.
They also need to take advantage of the other benefits being offered through their work, like life insurance, that may save them money. It also helps to know how much a person has saved up and how that will translate into retirement income in the future, she said.
Making sure youre taking advantage of everything, thats another big piece of it. For employers, it is hard a lot of time making information accessible to people, not making it sound like a tax notice, she said. It is on the shoulders of the employer to communicate a message that they would want to hear, one tailored for real people, she added.
Social media is a great way to keep topics at the forefront of employees minds.
For behavioral economics, people have to be pointed to the next action. They need to be pushed in that direction and not have any barriers. If there is any barrier at all then it wont happen, Hounsell said.
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