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More Than Half of Elders, and 60% of Older Women, Face Economic Insecurity

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Laura ClawsonMore than half of people age 65 and older face the prospect of not having enough money to meet basic daily expenses while staying in their homes and communities, a new analysis (PDF) from Wider Opportunities for Women finds. We’re talking basic necessities here—renting a one-bedroom apartment or having a modest mortgage, basic food, health care, and transportation, and just $265 in miscellaneous monthly expenses for a single person.

Within the 52 percent of all elders struggling to get by, though, there’s a big gender gap—60 percent of women compared with 41 percent of men are economically insecure. The fact that women live longer and have more years to spend down their savings doesn’t help. But that’s not all. In retirement, as during their working years, women have lower incomes than men: “Elder men studied report typical annual incomes that are nearly 75% higher than the typical elder woman’s income ($24,300 compared to $14,000).” Women are more likely to be dependent on Social Security, and receive smaller Social Security payments than men. And, as in so many other things, women of color face greater struggles than white women: “[E]lder African-American women report median annual incomes of $12,000; both Asian and Hispanic women report median annual incomes that are less than one-half of the general male population’s median incomes at $10,100 and $9,600, respectively.”

These numbers underscore the incredible importance of Social Security, which provides, on average, 77 percent of older women’s income. They also raise a terrifying prospect: Pensions are becoming less common, but here we see how crucial they’ve been in keeping some seniors out of economic insecurity. What happens to a generation that’s forced to rely on Social Security, or whatever’s left of that after the various catfood commissions are done weakening it, and whatever savings people can cobble together despite stagnating wages and stock market crashes?

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on March 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.


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