Women who receive Social Security benefits outnumber men who do by almost 18%, according to data from the Social Security Administration. While women tend to outlive men, the average benefit received by women is 26% lower than the average benefit received by men.
During women’s working years they tend to earn less than men for the same work. In addition, many women also take time out of the workforce to have children, or to provide care for aging family members. Some women do both, leaving low earnings and even zeroes in the earnings record that the Social Security Administration uses to determine their retirement benefit.
Women also tend to take their benefits sooner than men — before reaching the age for full un-reduced retirement benefits. When retiring before full retirement age, benefits are permanently reduced by up to 25% to 30%, depending on age.
Today millions of older women are depending on insufficient Social Security benefits to get them through a retirement that can stretch up to 30 years. Low benefits mean people have to spend more of their retirement savings (if they have any) at a faster pace than anticipated.
An individual’s earnings are the basis for how the Social Security Administration calculates the initial retirement benefit. The benefit formula uses the 35 years of highest earnings to determine the average monthly wage. Low earnings and years of no earnings in one’s earnings record, decreases the average monthly wage used to determine the monthly benefit. Initial benefits are pulled down with it. To boost benefits, some women today are working much longer than they anticipated to fill those gaps in their earnings records.
TSCL 2017 Senior Survey indicates there’s widespread support for proposals that would improve benefits, particularly for older women. A majority, 55%, said they support giving credits to people who take time off from their job to provide care for children or older family members. Under the proposal women would receive wage credits up to a certain amount — $6,000 per year is one proposal — to help fill in years when there are no earnings.
TSCL believes this would help boost benefits and keep older women out of poverty, help them to enjoy better health, and contributing to their communities longer. We support legislative remedies like these and will be working to share our survey results in upcoming meetings with Members of Congress.