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Valerie Young's picture

Social security!!!

I know, I know, you will be tempted to stop reading this post as soon as you realize I'm going to talk about retirement - AGAIN!.  But wait.  Maybe it feels too far away.  Maybe the problems you are solving today seem so much more important.  Maybe you are too maxed out with the here and now to even contemplate the then and how?  It is so typical of us women to worry about ourselves last.

But  I keep bringing it up because our economic security, both now and later in our lives, deserves to be a top priority.     Please take a few minutes and think of YOURSELF for a change.  Listen to my new friend who just happens to be a Social Security whiz.  Molly Checksfield is the Legislative Director at Social Security Works in Washington, DC.  She co-authored an article entitled “Social Security Remains Key in Averting the Impending Retirement Income Crisis”, which was published in the October 2012 edition of Aging Today.   She really knows her stuff!

WIW:  When should a woman start thinking about Social Security?

MC:  From the time a woman receives her first paycheck, she is participating in the Social Security system-- maybe sooner if her family relies on Social Security as a part of the family's income due to the death or disability of a parent. Americans should be educated about the importance of Social Security at young ages so that they understand where their money is going, and why their participation in this intergenerational contract helps support retirees, widows, the disabled, and veterans.  They should also be sure to earn at least 40 quarters/credits of coverage by the time they want to retire, or else they will be ineligible for benefits based on their own earnings. Finally, they should know that they should retire as late as they can afford to. There is a sliding scale from age 62 to 70, and the later one retires, the higher the monthly benefits. Waiting to claim your benefits until age 70 results in a 76% increase in the monthly amount for the rest of your life over claiming benefits at 62.

WIW:  How important is Social Security for women?

MC:  Social Security is extremely important to women- especially considering the lifetime average income for women is lower than men, which translates to lower average benefits. Social Security provides the backbone of retirement security for beneficiaries, especially the oldest old—most of whom are women.

WIW:   Why are women so dependent on their benefits in retirement?

MC:  Women take more time away from the workplace to provide care, and they generally earn less over their work lives.  They receive lower benefits in retirement as a result. Women also tend to live longer than men, so they will most likely be relying on benefits for longer than their male counterparts. Many women, especially minorities, rely on Social Security because they are less likely to work in a job that provides pensions and other retirement income options, like a 401(K) plan. 

 WIW:  How does the spousal benefit work?

MC:  This can be a complicated question, but briefly: the spousal benefit allows the lower earning spouse to receive a higher benefit based on the higher earning spouse's income, if it would be greater than the benefit due the lower earning spouse based on his or her own earnings.   But women need to be aware that if a couple divorces before 10 years of marriage, there is no right to a spousal benefit.   I recommend you read this information from the Social Security Administration:; and this:

WIW:   Is it true that the Social Security system will be bankrupt by the time today's workers retire?

MC:  If left untouched by Congress, Social Security will be able to pay 100% of benefits until 2033, at which point, the Trust Fund will be able to cover 75% of current benefits. There are a few options that would extend the solvency of Social Security, including eliminating the current $113,700 wage cap, which would render the system solvent for the next 50 years. 

 WIW:  How can you encourage bigger benefits when so many people say that Social Security is just too expensive for the US?

Social Security does not add to the deficit. The Social Security system has it's own dedicated revenue stream. So it’s simply a matter of how much we, as a workforce, want to invest in our retirement. It makes more sense to pay more in when we are working, so that we and our families have adequate income in retirement or disability.

Molly, thanks for your time and for sharing your expertise with us.  If  you have more questions, I suggest you stop by the Social Security Works site and the official Social Security Administration's site at
'Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington


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