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Mothers are so busy managing the here and now that thinking about retirement rarely rises to the top of the “To Do” list. Women’s advocates here in Washington, D.C. are pushing a proposal that would strengthen Social Security for women, especially those who have spent years in the unpaid labor of caregiving, and/or been hit by the lower pay in female-dominated job sectors. Women’s Enews reports:

Because women earn lower wages and take time out of the work force for caregiving, they receive smaller Social Security checks than do male workers. In 2009, the average annual Social Security income of a retired man was $15,620 compared to $12,155 for a woman.

Social Security has always been intended to be only part of income in retirement. Elder adults, it was believed, could also depend on personal savings and pensions. However, the landscape looks very different now, as pensions are scarce and under-employment and unemployment become increasingly common. For millions of Americans, especially women, Social Security will be all there is.

Authors of the report suggest that half the average annual wage, or $11,758 in 2011 dollars, be credited for each of a maximum of five years for a worker who reduces or eliminates wages to perform family care. It doesn’t seem unreasonable, when you consider that caring for an older adult or parent alone will cost that former worker an average of over $303,000 in wages, lost Social Security income and pension benefits, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. Caring for children costs women hundreds of thousands to over a million dollars in earnings and benefits, depending on her educational level. It shouldn’t be that hard to protect those who care for others from economic peril, or persuade policy makers that changes are in order.

But don’t hold your breath – as a nation, we can’t even agree that adequate health care ought to be accessible to everyone. Building consensus that raising children and caring for the sick, elderly or disabled should not push you into poverty in retirement will be an uphill climb – unless, of course, we simply insist on it.

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

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