Author Archives: Camille Browne

Economic Insecurity Rates Reveal Alarming Levels of Senior Insecurity, Wide Variation by State, Gender, Race

WOW’s newly released Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans brief series, an analysis of 2013 Census Bureau data, suggests that 49% of US retired seniors live in households which lack incomes required for economic security. WOW’s analysis demonstrates the vulnerability of older adults who live above the poverty line but whose incomes are insufficient to pay for basic needs and protect them from future poverty. These individuals find themselves in a “security gap”—with incomes too high to qualify for many public assistance programs, yet too low to achieve real economic stability.

“When the White House Conference on Aging convenes on July 13th, national attention will be focused on both the contributions and needs of older Americans. Many will be surprised to find out that almost half of our seniors may be just one accident or unexpected expense away from poverty or being unable to stay in their homes,” said WOW President and CEO Amanda Andere. “It is clear that seniors in some states are faring much better than those in other states, and that senior women—particularly senior women of color—are experiencing the most economic insecurity. Remarkably, more than two-thirds of single minority women are suffering insecurity.”

The first brief in the Living Below the Line series, “Insecurity in the States,” ranks states by their Elder Economic Insecurity Rates (EEIRs)—the percentage of independent seniors (65+) living in households with annual incomes that do not allow economic security. EEIRs enable state and local governments to better understand and benchmark the proportions and demographic characteristics of seniors at risk of financial instability or poverty. State EEIRs range widely (from 34% in Wyoming to 57% in Vermont), but in all states more than one-third of elders are at risk of being unable to afford basic needs and age in their own homes.

EEIRs 2015 Brief 1

Brief No. 2, “Women,” demonstrates that nearly half of all fully retired women aged 65 and older who live alone or with an elder spouse have incomes that fall short of economic security. EEIRsare higher for women than for men in every senior subgroup studied. Retired elder men studied report typical annual incomes 71% higher than typical retired elder women’s income ($25,914 compared to $15,718).

EEIRs 2015 Brief 2

Brief No. 3, “Race/Ethnicity.” finds severe levels of economic insecurity among elders of color. The brief reports that while EEIRsare high among seniors of all races and ethnicities, rates for retired seniors of color are particularly high. Among retired elder-only households, 75% of Hispanic-headed households, 70% of African-American-headed households, and 62% of Asian-headed households lack incomes that allow basic economic security.

EEIRs 2015 Brief 3

As the senior population grows, the number of men and women of color retiring into or aging into insecurity or poverty is likely to increase as well.  Federal, state and local governments must learn to recognize the security gap and those who fall into it. They must also consider whether or not their policies contribute to the security of those seniors who live above the poverty line, as they require services and supports that go beyond emergency aid and lead to intermediate- and long-term stability goals. Economic security, rather than “not-poverty,” is the goal to which elders and those who represent and serve them should aspire.

The Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans series can be found at 2014 Elder Index data can be found in WOW’s Economic Security Database.


Equal Pay and Economic Security

Today is Equal Pay Day. Advocates around the country are raising the voices of women and fighting against the brutal reality that women still earn only 78 cents of every dollar earned by men. This alone sounds atrocious – imagine what that means over a woman’s lifetime and into her retirement!

According to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee report, Large Gender Pay Gap for Older Workers Threatens Economic Security of Older Women, “in 2009, full-time working women 50 and older earned only three-fourths of what full-time working men the same age earned.”  In addition, WOW’s research shows that 49 percent of retired women ages 65 and older versus 40% of retired men in the same cohort experience economic insecurity. This suggests that the pay gap during working years translates to economic security during retirement. As a mature female worker, it makes me worry about having enough saved for retirement.

The AAUW’s report, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, states that white women were paid 78 percent of what white men are paid, African American women were paid 64 percent of what white men were paid and Hispanic and Latina women  were paid 54 percent of what white men.  Earning lower pay throughout one’s career affects not only salary, but your Social Security and retirement income. There is less money to pay for food and other household expenses including education, childcare and retirement savings. As a retiree, your fixed income will be smaller, Social Security will be less and investments fewer and of lower value. Women’s longer life expectancies also result in an increased chance of prematurely depleting all finances, outliving retirement savings and being unable to be economically secure and age with dignity.

Unequal pay during working years affects all women –especially minority women– and their families and can lead to elder economic insecurity during their retirement years. Equal and fair pay eliminates wage disparities and helps reduce poverty rates. Equal Pay + Fair Pay = A Strong Economy.  


Older Women In the Workforce: Building Pathways to Economic Security

When Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) was conceived of in the 1960s –a period in which women began entering the workforce en masse– its mission was to make the labor market equally accessible to women. Today, those efforts have expanded to include building pathways to economic security for women, their families and seniors.

Women’s History Month is a great time to reflect on the journey of older workers in the labor force across the years and the economic insecurity some face. Many older workers find themselves struggling financially and unprepared for retirement. The long-term unemployed, along with older workers who are recalibrating due to the economic downturn, job loss, children leaving the nest, divorce or other life changing events, often need assistance to return to the workforce or make a career change. Age discrimination and lack of access to retraining are barriers that impact the employability of older workers. Policies that promote the hiring of mature workers and integrate them in training programs (which typically tend to focus on Millennials and Generation Y), would go a long way toward moving this cohort into economic security.

WOW’s research on the needs and incomes of individuals aged 65+ and living independently in the community indicates that 45% of seniors– 40% of men and 49% of women– are economically insecure. Addressing this challenge over the long-term will require higher-paid work and new skills development for low wage workers –especially women. Workforce development assistance programs should aim to improve or augment the skills of older workers so that they will qualify for higher skilled, higher wage jobs. Women in particular would benefit from career counseling, education including vocational-technical programs and STEM initiatives, job training, and internships or apprenticeship programs for middle-skilled and high paying jobs.

Home Health Aides and Personal Care Aides (direct-care workers) are among the fastest growing jobs – about 90% of which are filled by women.  In 2010, the average age of a direct-care worker was 42. One study estimates that “by 2018 …one third of personal care aides will be 55 and older, an increase from 22% in 2008.” Unfortunately, a $10.58 median hourly wage for all direct-care workers fails to provide a fair living wage. Therefore, this kind of work–while increasingly important for an aging society–is unlikely to be an answer to older women’s economic insecurity dilemma.

Among barriers to older women’s employment is the notion that older workers cannot contribute to the success of an organization. While discredited, this belief continues to produce age discrimination in the workplace. Yet an older worker is quite capable of adapting and mastering new skills, even those that are technology-related. A prospective employer might hesitate to invest in a 55-year old new hire out of concern that  s/he may not remain an employee for the next 15 – 20 years. However, neither will a younger hire. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, “median employee tenure was generally higher among older than younger ones…A larger portion of older workers than younger workers had 10 years or more of tenure.”

Communities and employers benefit when older workers are encouraged to remain in the workforce for as long as they are able and wish. It makes good business and economic sense to welcome and retain these employees. Middle-aged and older workers offer experience and expertise and they tend to be more professional, mature and loyal.

Although the age at which people qualify for full Social Security retirement benefits varies depending on the year they were born, life expectancy is longer than for previous generations –especially among women– and many will be mentally and physically capable of working through their 70s and sometimes their 80s. Working beyond 65 provides individuals with an opportunity to defer retirement, continue paying payroll taxes, delay accessing retirement funds and continue growing their savings and investments. Gainfully employed older individuals will not only increase their own economic security, but will reduce pressure and dependence on Social Security and other public support systems. Plus, according to the New York Academy of Medicine’s (NYAM) Age Smart Employer Compendium of Strategies and Practices, “longer work lives will generate increased consumer spending, which drives economic growth and new job creation.”

Investments in effective, expanded, multigenerational, and diverse public/private training, internships, apprenticeships, and education programs, along with nondiscriminatory hiring practices and workforce development systems, are crucial in maximizing the performance and productivity of workers of all ages. And a productive workforce is central to being able to compete as a nation in the globalized economy of the 21st century.


America Saves – Or Not

The end of America Saves Week (February 23-28, 2015) should not be an excuse to suspend our efforts to (1) save, (2) spread the word on the importance of saving for retirement and other purposes, and (3) continue working to remove barriers to saving. Low and inadequate retirement savings and/or lack of access to 401(k)s, pensions, and other savings platforms result in increased dependence and pressure on our Social Security system. This is a crucial issue for all Americans, but especially for women. WOW’s research shows that half of all women age 65 and older living independently in the community experience economic insecurity—with much higher percentages for women of color.

There have been efforts on both the national and state levels to address barriers to saving for retirement—with uneven results. For example:

  • In response to data showing that “one third of people (36%) in the U.S. have nothing saved for retirement”, and “14% of people ages 65 and older have no retirement savings”, the US Department of Treasury launched the myRA savings program in December, 2014 –a no fee, no hidden cost account–intended to provide a “simple, safe, and affordable retirement savings option” for working Americans.
  • In February 2015, President Obama announced that he had asked the Department of Labor to modernize its rules under ERISA to ensure that investment advisers do not offer financial advice tainted by  conflict of interest, and that they put  hardworking Americans’ interests first. It is estimated that $17 billion is lost each year due to conflicted investment advice.
  • In January 2014, a bill was introduced in West Virginia’s legislature to establish the West Virginia Voluntary Employee Retirement Accounts (VERA) Program, which would expand access to retirement plans to all employees and employers who wish to participate. According to H. B. 4375  nearly fifty percent of West Virginia workers have no access to employer-based retirement plans. However, despite vigorous advocacy by West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy (WVCBP) and other groups, opposition led by the insurance industry prevailed and the legislation died.
  • The Minnesota’s Women’s Economic Security Agenda (WESA), a multi-issue campaign mounted by the Minnesota Women’s Consortium—another WOW partner—and other advocates, resulted in legislation that included creation of a Minnesota Secure Choice Retirement Savings Plan.  In February 2014, HF 2419 and its companion Senate bill, SF 2078, were introduced to establish such a plan; in the end, however, only a study of the issue was commissioned.
  • In January 2015, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a bill creating the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program Act. The Act is intended to promote “greater retirement savings for private-sector employees in a convenient, low-cost, and portable manner.”
  • In March 2012, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts signed a bill into law that provides retirement options for nonprofit organizations. This new law’s effective date was January 1, 2014 and applies to the “not-for-profit employer “who employs “not more than 20 persons…”

Having access to retirement savings plans/programs during one’s working years, and being assured of non-biased investment advice by financial advisors can make a big impact on economic security in retirement.  WOW commends and joins with those at the state and national levels who are working to bring these reforms about.


Wider Opportunities for Women Welcomes New Rulemaking to Strengthen Americans’ Retirement Security

Proposed DOL Rule will provide important new protections for all savers, but will particularly benefit women

 Washington, DC, February 23, 2015 – Wider Opportunities for Women, a leading advocate for women’s equity, empowerment and economic security across the lifespan, commends action by the Department of Labor (DOL) to advance a major rule proposal that addresses loopholes in protections for Americans saving for retirement.

For over 50 years, WOW has worked to help women gain access to jobs that enable them to adequately support themselves and their families, including through nontraditional occupations for women. Older women face a substantial gender income gap reflecting pay inequities and experiences during their working years. WOW’s research shows that half of all women age 65 and older living independently in the community experience economic insecurity—with much higher percentages for women of color. When women manage to save and invest even a small amount for their retirement years, it is crucial that the financial advisers they consult put their clients’ interests first. The Department of Labor’s common sense rulemaking is urgently needed so that all Americans receive unbiased retirement investment advice.

The Department of Labor has engaged in extensive analysis and outreach in developing this proposed rule, which reflects a commitment to protect workers’ hard-earned retirement savings from conflicted investment advice. Currently, loopholes in the law allow firms and individuals to present financial advice based on what’s best for their own bottom lines, not their customers’.

Once final, we are confident that the Department’s retirement security rule will strengthen protections for Americans when they receive retirement savings advice. All Americans, both women and men, deserve the peace of mind that their savings are being maximized for a financially independent, dignified retirement.

WOW’s Elder Economic Security Initiative Director, Jo Reed attended the event today, where President Obama announced that he was asking the Department of Labor to update the rules for retirement advice. WOW thanks the Department of Labor for moving ahead to protect hardworking Americans saving for retirement. We look forward to the rule proposal’s timely review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and to weighing in on the substance of the rule proposal when it is published in the Federal Register for public comment.


CONTACT: Jo Reed, Director, Elder Economic Security Initiative; 202.464.1596;


Elder Index Legislation Passes Overwhelmingly in NJ Assembly

WOO-HOO! Today, the New Jersey Assembly passed, by a vote of 72-1, A3504, a bill requiring the Department of Human Services to produce and update the New Jersey Elder Index; consult the Index in planning and delivering public benefits and services to senior residents; and use it as a planning tool for public resource allocation. Passage of the bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Lagana and Assemblywomen Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Huttle and Shavonda Sumter, represents a crucial step forward toward sound public policy for seniors in NJ, as the Elder Index provides policy makers accurate data on the economic conditions of older adults. WOW and its partner, NJ Foundation for Aging, testified in support of the legislation last month before the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.

Next step: consideration of companion legislation in the NJ Senate (S2231) introduced by Loretta Weinberg, Majority Leader. The bill is currently in the Senate Health Committee, where it may come up for a vote as early as winter 2015. WOW and NJFA will be pressing for favorable consideration and rapid movement to the Senate floor. Say Yes to Elder Economic Security!


Elder Economic Security Initiative (EESI) on the Move

WOW’s EESI has been on the road lately. In September, Initiative Director Jo Reed was in Boston to speak at the Annual Awards Brunch of its partner, Massachusetts Association of Older Americans. MAOA  Executive Director Chet Jakubiak had gathered top state leaders in aging research, advocacy and service to recognize two outstanding contributors to the field:  Ellen Bruce, retiring Director of the Gerontology Institute at University of Massachusetts Boston–and collaborator with WOW in creating Elder Economic Security StandardTM Index (Elder Index)–and Al Norman, Executive Director of Mass. Home Care, a well-known and effective advocate on behalf of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable elders. Jo’s remarks focused on the Elder Index as a potent advocacy tool that had been used across the country to promote policy and programs supporting older adults.  She praised MAOA and Mr. Jakubiak for their dedicated efforts, including a successful legislative initiative to establish a MA Elder Economic Security Commission. The Commission has a year to come up with recommendations. 

October brought a visit to Trenton, NJ, when a bill introduced in July 2014 by NJ Assemblyman Joseph A. Lagana came up for consideration before the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee. The bill, A3504 (companion legislation to S2231, introduced by Senator Loretta Weinberg), requires the Department of Human Services to produce and update the New Jersey Elder Index; consult the Index in planning and delivering public benefits and services to senior residents; and utilize it as a planning tool for public resource allocation. WOW Vice President for Policy and Programs Shawn McMahon, along with Melissa Chalker, Program Manager at New Jersey Foundation for Aging—EESI’s partner in the state—both testified regarding the significant benefits enactment of the bill would bring to NJ seniors. While funding originally included in the bill was amended out before the vote, the committee voted unanimously to move A3504 forward.  Assembly floor action is expected before the end of the year, and the Senate should take up the Weinberg bill early in 2015.  WOW and NJFA will work for enactment next year of a version of the bill that provides resources for producing and updating the NJ Elder Index. 

In mid-October, WOW Senior Scholar Mary Gatta and EESI intern Carla Iannone participated in a meeting of the newly-formed Bergen County, NJ, Anti-Hunger Coalition. They introduced WOW’s Elder Initiative, talked about WOW’s new research project on senior food insecurity in Bergen and Passaic Counties, and discussed the online service provider survey that will soon be conducted to clarify provider concerns. The group helped draft questions that will be refined and included in the survey, which should be in the field by November 1.  

EESI travelled to the University of Maryland School of Social Work in Baltimore on October 30th to meet with students in Professor Christine Callahan’s course on Financial Stability for Individuals, Families and Communities.  Students were particularly interested in learning about the impact of race, culture and gender on financial issues faced by seniors.  


Hunger Action Month: September 2014

September is Hunger Action Month, and New Jersey’s advocates and legislators have been garnering attention to the plight of the state’s seniors.

According to the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger’s report, The State of Senior Hunger in America 2012, “the fraction of seniors under the threat of hunger increased nearly 30% from 2007-2012.” Unfortunately, the impact of food insecurity among seniors is sometimes downplayed or forgotten. One in six people in the US, including 8.8 million seniors, experience hunger. The effects of food insecurity can contribute to diminished health in older adults and lead to a reduction in their quality of life. Hunger Action Month is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on food insecurity issues facing our seniors and take action to combat hunger in the community.

Not long ago (winter 2013) we witnessed a contentious Congressional debate over reauthorization of the Farm Bill, leading to a significant reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget. A federal budget sequester further reduced SNAP spending. Subsequently, some states (Michigan, New Jersey and Wisconsin) have elected to decline monies from the federal government that would have qualified beneficiaries to receive additional food stamps. These actions have been debilitating for many low-income families and seniors who rely on this assistance for basic nutritional support.

Against this background, some elected officials have worked to call attention to the struggle SNAP recipients face. Recently, 18 New Jersey legislators decided to join the state’s Greater MetroWest Food Stamp Challenge to raise awareness and encourage a bi-partisan solution to this issue. The challenge ran from September 8 – 14 and was designed to present each participant with an opportunity to learn what it is like to live on the average daily food stamp benefit. According to a report in New Jersey Jewish News, Senator Lesniak (D) lasted half a day and “busted” his budget to buy coffee. Assemblywoman Munoz (R) learned how challenging it can be to shop—she considered buying a rotisserie chicken which was less expensive than raw chicken but realized that SNAP rules preclude the purchase of “hot food and any food sold for on-premises consumption” and therefore she could not choose the more financially feasible option. The Assemblywoman reportedly said, “We have to get that rule changed.”

Although September is designated as Hunger Action Month by Feeding America, senior food insecurity occurs throughout the year. In January 2014, WOW partner New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA) aired a 30-minute interview with a local food advocate and food bank service provider on its cable television program, Aging Insights. The interview focused on food and nutrition benefits for seniors. NJFA Program Manager Melissa Chalker and her guests addressed issues such as lengthy wait times between being approved for SNAP and actually receiving benefits, along with good nutrition and healthy eating.

WOW’s research suggests that, other than through housing subsidies, the largest decreases in senior economic insecurity can be achieved through participation in SNAP, congregate meals and other nutrition assistance programs. Currently, WOW is working under a grant from The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation to identify local and non-local causes of senior food insecurity in New Jersey’s Bergen and Passaic Counties. WOW will convene local partners and service providers to identify changes needed in both policy and practice, as well as potential additional advocacy efforts.

As we approach the end of Hunger Action Month, WOW joins friends and allies across the country in reminding everyone to keep the nation focused on reducing hunger, and to use the hashtag #getSNAP to tweet about the Hunger Action Month campaign.


Older and Out of Work? Why the Vote to Extend Unemployment Insurance Matters

This week, the Senate voted to move forward and consider a bill to extend unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed workers who have received the maximum 26 weeks of unemployment insurance (UI). It is important that Congress moves forward to not only ensure continued benefits but to thwart stigmatization and/or discrimination by potential employers against the long-term unemployed. The impact of cutting off extended unemployment benefits is particularly severe for older workers because they make up a large portion of the long-term unemployed. The older worker who experiences long-term unemployment finds it more difficult than other long-term unemployed individuals to locate a new job.

According to Think Progress,
• “…those who have been looking for a job for more than six months are typically much older than those who just lost their jobs.
• “About 15 percent of the long-term unemployed are ages 56 to 65, but just 8 percent of those who have been out of work for under five weeks are that age.
• “The newly unemployed, by contrast, are much younger: more than 40 percent are ages 16 to 25.
• “The struggle for older workers to reenter the job market may be a sign of age discrimination.”
• “…the longer someone stays unemployed the harder it is to reenter the workforce. Being unemployed for longer than nine months is the equivalent of losing four years of experience in the eyes of a potential employer.”

Though the UI program requires that recipients look for work as a condition of receiving benefits, opponents continue to suggest that extending it would provide them with a disincentive to continue searching for jobs. They also contend that the added cost of extending benefits will hurt the economy. However, Michael Feroli, the JPMorgan Chase Chief United States Economist, told The New York Times, that not extending UI “could shave 0.4 percentage point off growth in the first quarter…” of 2014. Failure to continue these benefits, in other words, could result in an additional drag on our economy. The US economy would lose 300,000 jobs if Congress does not renew this program, according to the EPI. Moreover, extending UI enables the unemployed to continue their employment search process. It does not discourage them from finding work.

Instead of shaming, blaming and punishing the long-term unemployed, a better question would be: how can we support policies that encourage employers to hire qualified long-term unemployed workers regardless of age or length of time out the workforce?

Rather than implementing policies that are counter-productive to helping the long-term unemployed, Congressional leaders and state policymakers should consider the following:
1) Dust off the 2011 American Jobs Act and work with colleagues (regardless of political affiliation) to pass sections of the bill, such as the piece which extends unemployment benefits. It would expand job opportunities for many through the Pathways Back to Work Fund.
2) Introduce training sessions that are dedicated to assisting the long-term unemployed identify and resolve the challenges they face when trying to find work. Platform to Employment, a program that focuses on retraining and placing the long-term unemployed is a model that could be reviewed and duplicated nationwide. The opportunity to participate in this type of activity can enable workers to feel more optimistic and maintain and/or improve their job skills. Moreover, they can include this activity on their resume, which could help mitigate the potential negative impact and perception (by potential employers) of “losing years of experience.”
3) Educate potential employers on the benefits of hiring older, mature workers. Being an older worker does not necessarily mean a skill deficiency, not knowing current technology or an inability to learn. In fact, positive qualities shown to be associated with older workers include reliability, a strong work ethic, dedication to staying with the company, not requiring much supervision and a greater ability to problem solve.

The costs of long term unemployment on these workers, their families and our communities are significant. Potential employers, as members of their communities who should consider their role in addressing these costs, have a moral obligation to hire any qualified person facing such a personal crisis.

If the long-term unemployed cannot earn a decent, legitimate income and at the same time, face the loss of jobless benefits or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) benefits, how are they expected to survive? Doesn’t it make more sense to promote access to income, ultimately relieving the pressure on safety net programs? Try not beating the drum and leading the march solely on cuts, cuts, cuts. How about focusing like a laser beam on jobs, jobs, jobs and job training?