As the Dean of the Women Senators, I am here to speak for the Democratic women of the Senate, from whom you will be hearing much more in the weeks ahead.
I am emphatically against the privatization of Social Security. It is going to hurt millions of American women, American families and ultimately the whole country. Women and working families need to know that they can rely on a guaranteed benefit.
When you get old and when you are sick, there are not many things you can count on, but you should be able to count on Social Security. There are many reasons woman are particularly vulnerable to privatizing Social Security: they earn less their whole lives, they often work in jobs less likely to have a pension, they live longer and, when they retire, they get less.
Bill Thomas, Republican chair of the House Ways and Means Committee recently suggested that maybe – since women live longer then men – they should get even less monthly benefits. Now there is a penalty just for being a woman?
Woman are now in the penalty box, we need to put social security in a “lock box” to protect it for them. We cannot risk our retirement benefit in the stock market. Women want a guaranteed benefit not a guaranteed gamble.
Women know the odds. We know with every pull of the slot machine arm, we are more likely to get three lemons instead of three gold bars. So, we, the Democratic Women of the United States Senate will not support any reform that takes us backwards, instead of forward.
We will use a check list we developed to ensure that bad things do not happen to women and families in the name of improvements to social security. To have our support, any changes to Social Security must be able to answer these questions:
Does the Plan:
Preserve Social Security's guaranteed, lifetime, inflation-protected benefits?
Preserve Social Security's protections for workers when they are disabled, as well as when they retire, and for workers' spouses and children when workers are disabled, retire, or die?
Protect against impoverishment of women by maintaining Social Security's progressive benefit structure?
Strengthen the financing of the Social Security system while ensuring that women and other economically disadvantaged groups are protected to the greatest degree possible?
Further minimize poverty among older women?
These principles are the promises of Social Security that must be protected. We must keep the “security” in Social Security. Our senior’s retirement shouldn’t depend on the bull of the Bush Administration, or the bear of the market.
This checklist is important because Social Security is the primary, or only, income for retired women, disabled workers and their families, working families in retirement who usually do not have access to a pension or other retirement and spouses of retired workers.
First, why do we need to preserve Social Security's guaranteed, lifetime, inflation-protected benefits? Women work fewer years and on average earn less than men. Women then receive lower monthly benefits when they retire: the average month benefit for women is $797 compared to $1038 for men. Social Security does not penalize you for living longer. Women live longer than men, 70% of Americans over 85 years old are women. Women need a plan that will continue as long as they live. Women need a plan with adequate cost-of-living increases, $797 a month in 2005 will not buy the same things in 2015.
Second, why do we need to preserve Social Security's protections for workers when they are disabled as well as when they retire, and for workers' spouses and children when workers are disabled, retire, or die? Social Security guarantees that if you suddenly become disabled you will not also be suddenly poor. If a woman’s husband dies, Social Security guarantees that there will be some income provided for them. More than half of female beneficiaries depend on their husband’s earnings for their retirement.
Third, why do we need to protect against impoverishment of women by maintaining Social Security's progressive benefit structure? Social Security now protects women who are low-wage earners. Though they may struggle to make ends meet while working, they can count on a benefit that lifts them out of poverty. Social Security does not distinguish between men and women. It does not penalize women for living longer. It is impossible to outlive Social Security.
Fourth, why do we need to strengthen the financing of the Social Security system while ensuring that women and other economically disadvantaged groups are protected to the greatest degree possible? For many elderly women, social security is not a supplement to their income, it IS their income. Compared to men, most women do not receive employer-provided pensions. One-third of women must rely solely on what they receive from Social Security. When you are old and when you are sick, there are not many things you can count on, but you should be able to count on Social Security.
Fifth, why must we further minimize poverty among senior women? Social Security is why tens of millions of American seniors do not live in poverty, but there are still too many seniors living in or near poverty. For most women, Social Security has been more than a safety net, it has been their life boat. We need to make sure more senior women get the benefit of the safety net and share the life boat.
Why must we prevent privatization? It will replace the security of a guaranteed check for the gamble of the stock market. It will eliminate the dependability and predictability of senior’s income. It will not be inflation protected so year after year senior’s incomes will go down. It would eliminate guaranteed survivor benefits for widows. Our seniors would have to give all this up for the hope that every single one of them will successfully invest in the stock market. We have all seen how unpredictable and brutal the stock market can be. That is not where I am going to place the security of our senior citizens. They deserve better - they have been promised more.
I’m here to tell you, we are going to live up to those promises. We are not going to go back to a time when elderly poverty was commonplace and accepted.
Yes, Social Security has its challenges, and, yes, we need to encourage increasing savings in America. But we are not going to do that at the expense of America's seniors. We are not going to decimate America’s most successful program in the process. We need to responsibly strengthen Social Security and improve it, while we keep faith with our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and other family members who depend on America keeping its promises. The principles I have outlined are going to be my guiding light to make sure we keep those promises.
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