Hearing Highlights Importance of Paid Family Leave, Strengthening Social Security and Closing Pay Gap
Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, held a hearing entitled, “Women and Retirement: Unique Challenges and Opportunities to Pave a Brighter Future.” The hearing focused on the barriers that women face in planning for a financially secure retirement and how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges. Senator Casey and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Chairman of the Aging Committee, highlighted the findings of a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that they requested, which details how factors such as pay inequality, time spent caregiving and access to Social Security benefits affect women’s retirement security. Senator Casey also highlighted his legislation, the Surviving Widow(er) Income Fair Treatment (SWIFT) Act, which would assist many women in maximizing their Social Security benefits.
“As millions of women are experiencing job and income loss caused by the pandemic, it is more than important than ever to strengthen our retirement system so that women are not at risk of falling into poverty in their golden years,” said Senator Casey. “The GAO report highlights what we already know—that lower pay, more time spent out of the workforce caring for others and longer life expectancy all make it more difficult for women to save and result in women being more likely to fall into poverty in old age. To ensure that all women are able to achieve financial security in retirement, we must close the gender pay gap, strengthen Social Security benefits, create permanent paid family leave and secure workers’ hard-earned pensions. Legislation, including my bill, the SWIFT Act, has been introduced to address these needs. We must pass these bills without further delay.”
Median earnings for women who work full-time year-round are only 82 percent of male workers’ median earnings. According to GAO’s report, over the course of a full career, this difference in earnings compounds and can result in a median-earning woman earning close to half a million dollars less than a median-earning man. Women are also more likely to spend unpaid time out of the workforce providing care to children, spouses or other family. All of these factors result in women having less money to save and reduce women’s Social Security benefits and total retirement incomes. Women’s longer average life expectancies also mean that women have more years of retirement to save for and additional medical costs to cover. As a result, women are significantly more likely to live in poverty as they grow older.
As the Comptroller General of the United States, Gene Dodaro is the head of the GAO, the non-partisan watchdog of the federal government, which investigates and publishes hundreds of reports each year on the performance and accountability of federal departments and agencies. GAO reports and investigations can be requested by Members of Congress or Congressional committees. Mr. Dodaro testified at the hearing on the GAO’s July 2020 report on women’s retirement security. “Social Security income plays an important role in helping older women achieve their goals of maintaining their independence and covering their essential expenses, according to our focus group discussions,” said Mr. Dodaro. “Focus group participants discussed their perspectives on government programs, including Social Security, more than any other topic. In 11 focus groups, women specifically expressed concern about losing their Social Security or Medicare benefits, and several women described Social Security as a financial resource that helps them to maintain their lifestyle in retirement.”