- 2012elections - 9/11 Special Coverage - aca - africanamericanalzheimers - aids - Alabama News Network - american - Awards & Expo - bees - bilingual - border - californiaeducation - Caribbean - cir - citizenship - climatechange - collgeinmiami - community - democrats - ecotourism - Elders - Election 2012 - elections2012 - escuelas - Ethnic Media in the News - Ethnicities - Events - Eye on Egypt - Fellowships - food - Foreclosures - Growing Up Poor in the Bay Area - Health Care Reform - healthyhungerfreekids - howtodie - humiliating - immigrants - Inside the Shadow Economy - kimjongun - Latin America - Law & Justice - Living - Media - memphismediaroundtable - Multimedia - NAM en Espaol - Politics & Governance - Religion - Richmond Pulse - Science & Technology - Sports - The Movement to Expand Health Care Access - Video - Voter Suppression - War & Conflict - 攔截盤查政策 - Top Stories - Immigration - Health - Economy - Education - Environment - Ethnic Media Headlines - International Affairs - NAM en Español - Occupy Protests - Youth Culture - Collaborative Reporting

Women and Retirement – ‘The Big Mistake’

New America Media, News Feature, Linnie Frank Bailey Posted: Sep 17, 2009

Editor's Note: Poverty can visit any woman in midlife or old age simply because she ended up single. But if women only knew how to get their due from retirement or divorce, they may not have to face that hardship.

Linnie Frank Bailiey wrote this piece as part of the 2009 The Irvine Foundation California Politics and Policy Fellowship program administered by New America Media.

Cindy Hounsell could hear a pin drop. She’d often spoken on the financial perils that await older women if they didn’t look after their own interests. But friends had warned her that this audience of family caregivers in Texas was the wrong group for this lecture.

Far from her home base in Washington, D.C., Hounsell was told, “These women do it from the heart. They don’t care about money.”
Who Are the Caregivers?

Single mother Maria Diaz of Riverside, Calif., is more than familiar with the challenges of caregiving, working and running a household.

As an only child, she has the responsibility of taking care of her 88-year-old mother, who suffers from diabetes. “She’s unable to walk and she requires someone to help her dress, go to the restroom, bathe and eat,” Diaz said.

She added, “When my 19-year-old son is home, he can help with feeding her, but not with dressing or personal hygiene.”

The National Family Caregivers Association gives a glimpse of care giving in America. Among the findings the group reports:

• About 50 million people in the United States provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or elderly family member or friend during any given year. California has the highest number of caregivers of any state, with 3.4 million in 2004.

• Almost one-third of family caregivers caring for seniors are aged 65 or older themselves.

• Female family caregivers are 2.5 times more likely than noncaregivers to live in poverty and five times more likely to receive Supplemental Security Income.
Nearly all studies show women are the primary caretakers in America, often juggling work and house care with their caregiving duties.

Diaz, who works for a nonprofit and says she makes “a little over minimum wage,” depends on state programs -- Adult Home Day Care and In Home Support Services -- to help with care for her mom when she works.

After work, she starts her next shift. “When I get off from work, I am pretty much tied down at home,” she noted. “I take off to get groceries or other things I need, but I try to get back home as soon as possible.”

Diaz’s worries are many these days. Like many states caught in the recession, California has cut programs that assist caregivers. She can’t afford to pay for additional caregiving help.

Worried about the future in the economically strapped Riverside area, she commented, “We’re barely getting by in this neighborhood. I’ve thought of looking for a cheaper place to live, but we’re in a pretty inexpensive area already. For us, there is no home equity, no savings, and no insurance.”

“Still,” she adds, “at least I have a job. A lot of people around here don’t.”

Hounsell, 62, has made it her life’s mission to educate women on the importance of financial independence and security. She arrived in Washington as a Fellow at Georgetown University Law School and today runs the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, or WISER. The nonprofit focuses on reversing the inequities that disadvantage women in later life.

Although she is a seasoned professional who has written, lectured and testified before Congress, Hounsell’s commitment to WISER’s mission is deeply personal. She learned of the vulnerabilities of retirement at an early age. Her mother was disabled, and her father often spoke of the need to work and save for as long as possible to meet future medical needs.

She added that growing up in Boston, where she attended Catholic schools, the message to girls was, “Get married and have kids.”

Hounsell told her Texas listeners that poverty can visit any woman in midlife or old age simply because she ended up single, often because of divorce, separation or the death of her spouse. Research from Syracuse University shows that almost four in 10 divorced or separated women aged 65-plus and nearly one in three older widows are impoverished.

Much of this poverty, she explained, results from women making what she calls “The Big Mistake” -- not getting their due from retirement and divorce. As they get older, women often don’t understand Medicare and Social Security, and when to take one or both.

“Women going through a divorce are often so concerned with custody and child care issues that they easily let go of their most valuable asset -- their retirement funds,” she said. “Divorce leaves many women poor, especially if while married they quit work or cut back on their career to stay home with kids.”

Frequently, Hounsell said, women are unaware of their rights to some of their spouse’s retirement income, or they don’t want to appear greedy by pursuing it.

Those are lessons she learned first-hand. After graduating from college, Hounsell worked for 17 years as a Pan Am flight attendant. When the carrier went bankrupt, she discovered that her pension was reduced to only one-fourth of its former value.

After her divorce and the death of her parents, Hounsell realized how financially vulnerable she and others like her are. At age 39, Hounsell enrolled in City University of New York Law School, became an attorney and worked on the Women’s Retirement Project.

“After my parents died, I thought ‘I’m an only child. Who’s going to help me?’” she said. “I realized I had to help myself.”

Although she had little previous business experience, she managed to purchase a house and later saved enough to invest in a condo to provide more financial security.

Taking charge of her future, she said, made her more confident in business matters – and more determined to help other women see they could build their financial independence if they start early.

“This is especially important for the young women of today,” she said, “given uncertain economic times. So many women, even those with careers, thought they had done everything right, only to end up in poverty.”

Hounsell observed that older women are increasingly more likely than their mother’s generation to have held jobs. However, many will have meager retirement income because they earn lower wages compared to men. Also, many must interrupt their careers to raise children or provide elder care.

Although married women with jobs may expect to fare better than those who don’t work, their financial position could worsen if they end up on their own. According to WISER, being single during midlife or old age is especially common for African-American women. Numerous studies show that for black women, marriage rates are low and divorce rates are high.

All women in the United States outlive men by an average of six years – seven years if they are African American. Despite living longer than men, according to Hounsell, ethnic women on average end up with less than half of the retirement income that men accumulate.

WISER not only educates women on enhancing their personal finances; Hounsell also prescribes changes in public policy.

For example, she urged the White House and Congress to eliminate the “motherhood penalty” from Social Security. Washington should grant caregiver credits for up to five years spent outside the workforce caring for children, she said. A similar provision should enable people to devote years to elder care or other family demands. At present, Social Security only counts paid employment toward its retirement pension, an outdated policy generally favoring men.

Hounsell also called on Washington to enact comprehensive reform of both private pensions and Social Security.

After completing her talk, Hounsell stared at her Texas audience for a tense instant. How would they react? Then she realized they were on their feet -- giving her a standing ovation. Afterward, many confided, “I wish someone had told me these things earlier.”

The WISER Web site www.wiserwomen.org maintains information, fact sheets, questions and answers, and publications to help women with life’s important financial decisions.

* * *

Five Questions to Ask Your Mother or Grandmother

The huge boomer generation now spans the ages of 45 to 64 – and most of their parents are in their 70s and 80s. The Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) recommends that boomers ask their senior relatives the following questions:

1. Can you make ends meet? Are you worried about depleting your savings?
Many older people worry about whether they will outlive their savings and not have sufficient resources at the end of their lives.

2. Do you have a competent tax and financial advisor?
Especially in these trying and confusing economic times, good professional advice can be crucial to women before and after retirement to avoid the costly mistakes that rob them of the chances to maximize their savings and assets.

3. Are you struggling with prescription drug costs?
It is not unusual for elders to have thousands of dollars in annual prescription drug costs. Health care expenses are a major cause of depleted financial resources for older women as well as a cause of ill health because people put off getting medical care.

4. Are you getting all the medical care you need?
In addition to the burden of prescription drug coverage, many older adults skip important preventive or other medically necessary care because they can't afford the out-of-pocket costs not covered by Medicare.

5. Have you been approached to get involved in charitable contributions, investment schemes, business ventures or loans that seem questionable?
Incidents of fraud and other kinds of financial abuse are commonly perpetrated against unsuspecting elders.

For more information, visit www.wiserwomen.org.

Page 1 of 1




Just Posted

NAM Coverage

Ethnic Elders