Mothers Matter and Caregivers Count
As an elder law attorney one of the most troubling realities of my practice is meeting with an older woman and discovering that her monthly social security income is less than eight hundred dollars ($800) a month. Generally, this is a woman who serves as a caregiver for people that live with her, or for other relatives and friends. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, approximately seventy-five (75) percent of caregivers for friends and older family members are female. And of the 2.4 million grandparents who live with and are responsible for grandchildren, sixty-three (63) percent are women. For more statistics, visit www.caregiver.org.
How does a woman wind up in a financial purgatory during the “golden years” of her life? In a September 2011 report entitled,” Marriage, Employment and Inequality of Women’s Lifetime Earned Income”, Chinhui Juhn of the University of Houston and Kristin McCue of the U.S. Census Bureau, used current Social Security population surveys and surveys of income and program participation to look at a woman’s lifetime earnings potential.They found that lifetime earnings of a married college educated woman compared to those of a less educated single woman had the largest gap. When a woman becomes eligible for a Social Security pension this becomes extremely important because under the current social security benefits marital history as well as individual earnings history determine monthly income. Our current social security benefit rules provide limited income security for a woman who never marries and has a low lifetime earnings record. At the same time, our current social security benefit rules provide redundant income protection for a married woman who has a high lifetime earnings record.
How can this institutional inequality be remedied? In a report prepared for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Elaine Fultz, Ph.D., a consultant on Social Security, examined a program titled Pension Crediting for Caregivers (“PCC”) that is being used in seven countries. This program is most often provided to mothers of young children, but also to fathers, adult children, grandparents, or unrelated caregivers. The goal is to increase one’s pension later in life by compensating for periods of unpaid work when the caregiver is not making any pension contributions.. The countries examined were Canada, Japan, and five members of the European Union (EU): Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. While PCC is often touted as a way of compensating women for time spent out of the workforce, this report’s analysis points to strong advantages of allowing accrual of PCC even if the woman continues to work. This enables a caregiver to increase her family’s current income at the same time she increases her old age pension record by receiving PCC. This program or some type of Social Security reform is needed to recognize the value of unpaid work, the rearing of children and informal care for the elderly or disabled and to rectify the problem of mothers/caregivers living in a financial purgatory during their “golden years”.