What a crazy 78 years it’s been.
When you first started, all the way back in the Great Depression, who would have guessed you’d be the most successful anti-poverty program in our nation’s history? Certainly not the first recipient, who got a whopping 17 cents in January 1937. It wasn’t until 1939 that you started paying survivor benefits, and you didn’t start paying disability benefits until 1956. As they say, “You’ve come a long way, baby!”
But while you may have started small, it’s hard to imagine life without you. You get people through some tough times. Whether a family is facing loss of income due to retirement, disability, or the death of household income earners, you are there for men, women, and, yes, even children. You’re especially critical to millions of older women, more than half of whom would fall into poverty without your benefits. Forty-eight percent of all nonmarried (divorced, widowed, or never married) women ages 65 and older get 90 percent or more of their income from you. That’s a big deal.
But as much as we love you, you’re not perfect. Who is? The gender wage gap is reflected in women’s lower-than-average benefit levels, and their benefits are also affected by their time away from the workforce and longer lifespans. We’re working on fixing these issues with the Paycheck Fairness Act, which could boost enforcement of pay discrimination and close the wage gap.
Sure, you have some critics. Sure, they tell us they support Social Security. At the same time, they suggest introducing a chained consumer price index or privatization. But we know the chained CPI would revise the methodology for calculating the cost-of-living adjustments for benefits and would particularly hurt older women, as it would decrease their benefits over time. Privatization would be even worse! A system of private accounts would risk guaranteed lifetime retirement income, so women could actually outlive their benefits. Don’t worry, we did not invite these pretend friends (frenemies?) to your birthday party.
As is customary on birthdays, on August 14 we celebrate you and the 78 years that you’ve made America a better place. Social Security is how we’ve cared for each other across generations and how we’ll continue to do so. Here’s to another year of fighting to keep you strong for women’s economic security.
Originally published on AAUW’s Blog