For millions of women in America, Social Security amounts to the difference between health and hunger. It provides a majority of the income that six in 10 women age 65 or older rely upon to meet their basic needs. For three in eight older women living alone, it provides virtually all — 90 percent or more — of their total income. But the gender pay gap that shapes many women's working lives takes a huge bite out of their Social Security benefits. To strengthen Social Security's finances and women's retirement security, we need to close the wage gap for good.
Right now, women make less than men in nearly every occupation for which wage data are tracked. One year out of college, women are paid 18 percent less than their male counterparts. Ten years out of college, the wage gap leaves women earning 31 percent less.
Over a 35-year career, these earnings discrepancies swell to exceedingly large sums. Across the entire workforce, the average career-long pay gap is $434,000. For college-educated women, the pay deficit averages $654,000.
These disparities have a profound impact on women's economic security, both during their working years and in retirement. In 2012, women over 65 received an average Social Security benefit of $12,520, compared with $16,396 for men. Women of color are doubly disadvantaged due to the combined effects of the gender pay gap and racial or ethnic pay disparities. African-American women receive an average Social Security benefit of $11,974, and Hispanic women only $10,500. Is it any wonder that twice as many women as men over the age of 65 live in poverty?