Friday, July 25, 2008

Out of Sorts or Out to Lunch?

Well, today I am on a rant -- not a state particularly unusual for me -- but this time it is for the benefit of all you stay-at-home moms out there. It seems that no matter how many bras my generation of women burned or refused to wear in the name of equality, nothing much has changed. Though women make up over half of the workforce in America, they STILL do not earn as much as men. Granted, some do, notably those who belong to unions. Female professionals such as doctors, nurses, teachers, and attorneys make a great deal more money than the average woman. This we all know. We also know that in the majority of marriages, the working wife/mother does the majority of the housework, shopping and child-rearing in addition to her paying job.

However, where the inequality REALLY shows up is when a woman reaches retirement age. A married woman who has never worked receives one-half of her husband's social security amount. So together, a couple would receive 50% more than the husband's social security when both have reached full retirement age. If she has worked and has earned more or an equal amount as her husband, then she might receive her own benefits, rather than her husband's. The government is saying that a woman who has stayed at home raising her children isn't worth as much as her husband. (I know, I know....she didn't pay into the system.) Raising children is not valued by our predominantly male government officials.

The only thing worse, and which I and many other women of my age are experiencing is this: we were divorced and now are only permitted to receive one-half of our ex-husband's social security, if the marriage lasted ten years or more. The figure social security arrives at is one which takes the ex's social security amount, divides it in half, then subtracts the woman's social security amount from that number. The most a divorced woman can get, unless she has been lucky enough to earn substantial wages over her lifetime, is only half of what her ex is receiving - the same amount as the wife who never worked. The difference is that the latter still benefits from her husband's full social security income. If you have been a stay at home mom, as women in my generation and the ones before me were expected to be, you are, in effect, penalized because of it. It means you either live in dire poverty, or you must work until you drop dead.

I also have some acquaintances who have never been married and have always worked. These women have not held high-paying jobs, and find themselves in a similar situation where they cannot afford to retire and will have to work for the rest of their lives. Conversely, a single man will normally retire with plenty of money coming in. I suppose there isn't any solution for this, given the mess our social security system finds itself in. After Medicare benefits are subtracted from the social security check, there isn't much left with which to survive.

The point of this is to tell younger women to work as much as possible. Personally, I believe mothers should stay home with their children at least until the children are in school, but I realize that may be impossible in today's world. Even if day care costs as much as your wages, you are building up social security wages. In the event the system is still in place when you retire, perhaps you will see some equality.
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