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Washingtonians Weigh In on Future of Social Security

PHOTO: For 3 of 10 women age 65 and older, Social Security is their only income source, and it makes up more than half the income of 3 in 4 single retirees. Photo credit: Zimmytws/iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: For 3 of 10 women age 65 and older, Social Security is their only income source, and it makes up more than half the income of 3 in 4 single retirees. Photo credit: Zimmytws/iStockphoto.com.
June 2, 2014

SEATTLE – Free public forums this week in Bellingham and Seattle will cover the future of Social Security.

For just over half of married couples and three-quarters of single people, Social Security makes up at least half of their retirement income. And it is the only income source for three out of 10 women age 65 and older.

Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), says that's why her group sees it as vital to not only keep Social Security in place, but strengthen it.

She points out the average annual benefit for a retired man is just over $17,000 – for a woman, it's $13,000.

"Women work an entire lifetime at unequal pay, and a lot of that relates to the fact that about two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women,” she points out “So, they get to the end of their working career and they don't have that nest egg.

“Social Security is what women rely on in their retirement years."

O'Neill says NOW is backing the idea of a caregiver credit – a minimum amount of Social Security that could accrue for women during years when they have to drop out of the workforce to care for children or elderly parents.

O'Neill will be a panelist at the forums, on Wednesday night in Seattle and Thursday night in Bellingham.

Also on the panel is Marilyn Watkins, policy director at the Economic Opportunity Institute.

She says backers of Social Security have spent a lot of time in recent years defending it from those who would privatize or defund it.

Watkins stresses it's time to change the focus – to how to adjust and modernize a program that she says hasn't seen major updates since the 1980s.

"Now we all know that this is important, and let's start talking about making it better right now, and reassuring younger working Americans that we've done what we need to, to make this financially sound for when you get to retirement, too," she says.

There are proposals in Congress to increase Social Security benefits and cost-of-living adjustments, and to lift the cap on how much of a person's income is taxed for Social Security, so that people at higher incomes contribute similar percentages as those with lower incomes.

The Wed., June 4, forum starts at 7:00 p.m., at Bethany United Church of Christ, 6230 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle. The Thurs., June 5, forum is at Syre Center, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham. It begins at 7:30 p.m.


Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA