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Senior Citizen Politics

Senate Aging Chair Wants Social Security to Better Inform Seniors About Benefits

More information below:

Link to GAO report "Retirement Security: Women Still Face Challenges."

Links to testimony by hearing witnesses

Link to video of Senate hearing

Statement by GAO on purpose of report on women and retirement

Summary of GAO report

At hearing on Retirement Challenges for Women, Sen. Kohl also pushes for higher minimum benefit

July 26, 2012 – At a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging yesterday - “Enhancing Women’s Retirement Security” - Chairman Herb Kohl, D-Wis., called on the Social Security Administration to do more to help older Americans understand their benefits.

Kohl also spoke in favor of a bipartisan proposal to increase Social Security’s Special Minimum Benefit, which is the floor benefit level for career low-wage earners.

The hearing’s purpose was to examine the unique issues women face in achieving retirement security.

The center piece of the hearing was a presentation of a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which had been requested by Kohl.

The GAO report, entitled “Retirement Security: Women Still Face Challenges,” included a range of policy proposals, including a stronger push to help people understand the benefits of delaying the receipt of Social Security benefits.

The hearing largely focused on Social Security, which women disproportionately depend on for their retirement income.

Big Questions About Social Security: Age to Draw Benefit, Survivor Benefit Amount

The decision for senior citizens about early retirement is a common one; few know how survivor benefits are determined - video on how to enroll online

April 19, 2012 – Social Security is of critical importance to most older Americans, but few really think about it until the time comes to make a decision about when to apply for the retirement payments, which can be as early as three months before turning age 62. What a surviving spouse will receive is another question most never consider until they lose their loved one. Below are answers from a SSA spokesperson and help on getting more information. Read more..See video

During the hearing, Kohl pressed SSA to do more to help people understand their benefits.

 “SSA has a responsibility to inform and educate people about their benefits, and it needs to make sure people understand just how much money they are losing when they take their benefits sooner rather than later,” Kohl said.

   ● Among the report highlights are the following:

   ● Currently, the majority of women claim benefits at 62 - the earliest age possible.

   ● Only 18 percent wait until their normal retirement age of 66 or later.

   ● A woman expecting to get $1,000 a month at 66 gives up $250 every month for the rest of her life if she files to take her benefit at 62.

   ● On the other hand, if she waits until 70, she is looking at a monthly benefit of $1,320.

   ● A person claiming at 70 can get 76% more in benefits than if she claimed at 62.

   ● A recent study from the Center for Retirement Research called this strategy to delay benefits “the best deal in town.”

“According to experts, many people do not realize that waiting to claim Social Security benefits can significantly increase monthly benefit amounts for the rest of their lives,” according to the report.

“Better educational outreach could increase awareness. If workers delay claiming Social Security benefits, income and payroll tax revenues would be increased and solvency would be improved.”


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Read more on Politics for Senior Citizens


Enhancing Women's Retirement Security

July 25, 2012

   ● Click here to view hearing

Statements of Committee Members

Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman

Panel Statements (Click on name for link to their statement)

Barbara Bovbjerg, Director, Director, Education, Workforce and Income Security Issues, Government Accountability Office, Washington, DC

GAO Report, Retirement Security: Women Still Face Challenges

LaTina Burse Green, Assistant Deputy Commissisoner, Retirement and Disability Policy, Social Security Administration, Washington, DC

Kelly O'Donnell, Vice President, Financial Engines, Boston, MA

Sabrina Schaeffer, Executive Director, Independent Women's Forum, Washington,DC

Joan Entmacher, Vice President and Director, Family Economic Security, National Women's Law Center, Washington, DC

GAO Report

Retirement Security: Women Still Face Challenges

Why GAO Did This Study

Elderly women, who comprise a growing portion of the U.S. population, have historically been at greater risk of living in poverty than elderly men. Several factors contribute to the higher rate of poverty among elderly women including their tendency to have lower lifetime earnings, take time out of the workforce to care for family members, and outlive their spouses.

Other factors could affect older women’s financial insecurity. These include the economic downturn and changing trends in pension plan offerings. In light of these circumstances, GAO was asked to examine -

(1) how women’s access to and participation in employer-sponsored retirement plans compare to men’s and how they have changed over time,

(2) how women’s retirement income compares to men’s and how the composition of their income—the proportion of income coming from different sources—changed with economic conditions and trends in pension design,
(3) how later-in-life events affect women’s retirement income security, and (4) what policy options are available to help increase women’s retirement income security.

To answer these questions, GAO analyzed data from two nationally representative surveys, conducted a broad literature review, and interviewed a range of experts in the area of retirement security.

GAO is making no recommendations. GAO received technical comments on a draft of this report from the Department of Labor, the Department of the Treasury and the Social Security Administration, and incorporated them, as appropriate.

What GAO Found

Over the last decade, working women’s access to and participation in employer-sponsored retirement plans have improved relative to men. Indeed, from 1998 to 2009, women surpassed men in their likelihood of working for an employer that offered a pension plan, largely because the proportion of men covered by a plan declined.

Furthermore, as employers have continued to terminate their defined benefit (DB) plans and have switched to defined contribution (DC) plans, the proportion of women who worked for employers that offered a DC plan increased.

Correspondingly, women’s participation rates in DC plans increased slightly over this same period while men’s participation fell, thereby narrowing the participation difference between men and women to 1 percentage point. At the same time, however, women contributed to their DC plans at lower levels than men.

Although the composition of income for women age 65 and over did not vary greatly over the period - despite changes in the economy and pension system - women continued to have less retirement income on average and live in higher rates of poverty than men in that age group.

The composition of women’s income varied only slightly, in part, because their main income sources - Social Security and DB benefits - were shielded from fluctuations in the market.

Women, especially widows and those age 80 and over, depended on Social Security benefits for a larger percentage of their income than men. For example, in 2010, 16 percent of women age 65 and over depended solely on Social Security for income compared to 12 percent of men.

At the same time, the share of household income women received from earnings increased over the period, but was consistently lower than for men. Moreover, women’s median income was approximately 25 percent lower than men’s over the last decade, and the poverty rate for women in this age group was nearly two times higher than men’s in 2010.

For women approaching or in retirement, becoming divorced, widowed or unemployed had detrimental effects on their income security. Moreover, divorce and widowhood had more pronounced effects for women than for men.

For example, women’s household income, on average, fell by 41 percent with divorce, almost twice the size of the decline that men experienced.

For widowhood, women’s household income fell by 37 percent - while men’s declined by only 22 percent. Unemployment also had a detrimental effect on income security, though the effects were similar for women and men; household assets and income fell by 7 to 9 percent.

A range of existing policy options could address some of the income security challenges women face in retirement. For example, some would expand existing tax incentives to save for retirement while others would improve access to annuities.

All of these options have advantages and disadvantages that would need to be evaluated prior to implementation. For example, increasing Social Security benefits for widows could provide additional income for women who have few options to increase their retirement savings. However, increasing benefits would also increase costs to the Social Security program and have implications for its long-term solvency.

  >> Link to full report

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