It seems we're living in a country that penalizes women for:
- Taking time out of their own lives and careers to care for others
- Getting older
- Living longer than men
According to a new study just published by OWL (Older Women's League National Board), women over 50 are in dire straits.
In the report, OWL, an advocacy group, begins its executive summary with some positive news by stating:
Midlife and older women are the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. workforce, and their participation in the nation's productivity is at an all-time high. As greater numbers of older women delay retirement, their presence in the workplace will continue to increase.
But, the report goes on to highlight a few of the stark realities of life as a woman over 50 in America:
The past few years of economic decline, slow recovery and related job cuts in state and local governments were particularly devastating for women. Along with the negative impact of the recession, older women workers are facing an array of obstacles in the workplace including age and gender discrimination; pay inequality; under-representation in business ownership, high-paying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs; caregiving demands and penalties; underemployment; and a lack of retirement security.
Generally speaking, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar men earn, and this disparity widens dramatically with age.
"We've got women who have a lot of skills and who have experience, and that should be used. We need them, you know, contributing to the social system, and we need them to get compensated for it," said Margaret Huyck, president of OWL, in a recent interview.
One possible explanation for the pay gap is that women are more likely than men to leave the workforce for a period of time to take care of children, aging parents and spouses that are ill. The report finds "most caregivers are female and middle-aged and drop out of the workforce for an average of 12 years to care for young children or aging parents." The end result is often the same: the woman who chooses this path gets penalized by earning less than her male counterpart or not getting the job at all.
Working fewer years and earning less money can make it difficult for women when they retire. According to the report, almost twice as many retired women (12 percent) live in poverty as retired men (6.6 percent), and that without Social Security benefits half of women age 65 and older would live below the poverty line. And because there are so many more older women than men, many women live alone and don't benefit from the lower living expenses enjoyed by couples. Men, by contrast, are much more likely to live with a spouse and tend to remarry if their wife dies.
Even for those women over 50 who are lucky enough to have a job, many are woefully underemployed. According to the study, for women ages 55 to 61 who have a job, nearly 21 percent of them are underemployed, compared with only 7 percent of men that age.
To underscore the statistics, another study just published by Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), a Washington, DD non-profit organization, states that older women are at greater risk of economic insecurity than older men. Its analysis of U.S. Census data found that 60 percent of women and only 40 percent of men age 65 and older who live alone or with a spouse do not have enough money to pay for their basic needs.
The OWL report -- which can be downloaded for free by going to their website -- offers many recommendations, including tougher anti-discrimination laws to discourage age and gender discrimination, incentives for companies to hire older workers and support for women entrepreneurs. They also suggest changes that could help all workers, such as more flexible work schedules.
This is a national travesty, and every woman in America -- regardless of age -- should be outraged. The fact that this didn't make headline news is disappointing and very telling.
What can you do?
Start by sharing this article. Download the report. Read it. And get really, really mad.
Next, buy products and services from companies that have a history of supporting women and especially older women.
And finally, in November, choose government officials who will make sure this is fixed, once and for all, for you, and future generations of women.
Take a quick look at this 30-second snippet from a speech I gave recently at the UniteWomen March and Rally in New York City. I hope it will become your mantra, too.
Barbara Hannah Grufferman is the President of Best of Everything Media, Inc., author of "The Best of Everything After 50", a guide to positive aging, and is at work on her second book, "Fifty Rules: What Every Woman Needs to Know Before Turning 50" which will be published in late 2012. Visit www.bestofeverythingafter50.com for more tips on living your best life after 50. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.