March marks Women's History Month -- a time for celebrating women's historic gains and achievements. But, equally important, especially in this sluggish economic recovery, is amplifying the contemporary economic challenges women continue to face, including the uphill climb to retirement security.
The "Golden Years" -- often touted as the last leg of the American Dream -- is the promise that those who work hard will one day retire and enjoy the fruits of their labor. But this dream is elusive for most women, particularly those of color, due to lower earnings, their employment patterns, caregiving responsibilities and marital status.
In 2014, women still face a substantial income gap. On average, women earn 77 cents to every dollar white men earn. Women of color fare even worse with African-American women earning 62 cents, and Hispanic women earning 54 cents to the dollar. The gender wage gap is compounded by women's overrepresentation in part-time work and low wage sectors, which overwhelmingly lacks fringe benefits. This weakens their chances to establish a solid economic future and instead heightens their economic vulnerability.
Despite earning less, women disproportionately shoulder enormous financial burdens, including caring for children, elderly parents and even extended family. These responsibilities interrupt women's work patterns. Over a lifetime, women will spend 27 years in the workforce, compared to almost 40 years for men. These responsibilities also add expenses, which deplete savings and possible investments in retirement.
These challenges to wealth building ring true especially for African American women. Under the age of 65, single black women's wealth equaled $100, amounting to a penny of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by single black men and a fraction of a penny for every dollar of wealth owned by single white women or men.
Low wealth, little to no retirement savings and longer life expectancies, result in many women relying on social security as their primary or only source of retirement income. And while social security was never intended to serve as the sole financial means of economic security, without it women would face profound economic hardships. According to one report retired women of color's (62 percent of black women and 57 percent of Hispanic women) poverty rates would skyrocket without social security. This underscores why this part of the safety net must be preserved.
But social security cannot be the only and final solution.
The fate of our nation's economic future necessitates guaranteeing women equal opportunities, resources and education to build their financial security. And with experts projecting at least five times more minority women and men aged 65 and older by 2050, we must act with urgency. This country built a strong middle class before and can do it again by providing caregiver credits, improving and expanding the saver's tax credit, developing a better system of financing, providing long-term care and ensuring access to the Affordable Care Act (which contains costs for older women who spend much of their income on health related expenses like prescriptions and preventive services).
Women have made great strides; but we must continue to build off those gains for an even brighter future for all Americans. So, this Women's History Month let us do precisely that. Let us reaffirm our call for women's economic security -- at all stages of life -- so that one day enjoying the "golden years" is not an option; but it is a guarantee for all women for generations to come.
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