Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Subcommittee, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon. My name is Amy Holmes and I am a policy analyst for the Independent Women’s Forum. It is an honor and a privilege to be invited to speak to you today on behalf of myself and the women of IWF.
The Independent Women’s Forum is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research and public education on policy issues concerning women. The Independent Women’s Forum neither solicits, nor accepts government funds. Pursuant to House Rule XI, clause 2(g)(4), I confirm that IWF has at no time received any federal grant, contract or subcontract.
The first person ever to receive a Social Security check was a woman named Ida Fuller. She ultimately received $20,000 in benefits over her retirement from the federal government. Not a bad return on the $22 she paid in taxes. What a difference sixty years makes.
Today, you are hearing from a variety of perspectives on how to reform the system. I will humbly leave the more technical analysis to my colleagues. I come to you as a 25 year old woman keenly aware of the impending Social Security crisis and the need to start saving for my retirement, sooner rather than later, more rather than less.
As an African American, unmarried woman I can be counted in those categories of recipients most dependent on Social Security for future retirement income. Which means I have a lot to worry about, since when I hit retirement age, there will be fewer than two workers to support my Social Security benefits as compared to 8.6 workers for every beneficiary in 1955. In the meantime, according to conservative estimates from Economic Security 2000, baby boomers’ Social Security entitlements threaten to push my lifetime tax rate up to an unconscionable sixty to seventy percent. You know the statistics — they paint a grim picture. Clearly, the time for bold reform is now and three quarters of American adults agree according to a recent poll conducted for the Associated Press.
Yet, groups that claim to speak for women oppose these reforms that would truly liberate women from government dependence, and offer us real choice and ownership of our financial futures. Instead, groups such as the National Organization for Women downplay Social Security concern as nothing more than a “Chicken Little atmosphere.” According to a recent statement by Patricia Ireland, “The threat our families face is not the imminent collapse in Social Security funding, but a possible shortfall after 2032.” Even if she’s right, and this Committee knows well that the Trust Fund is filled with paper promises, I cannot run the risk of waiting until I’m 57 years old to shore up my retirement options.
The Feminist Majority warns that “having a private account means that [we] bear all the risk of investing.” The fact of the matter is, we bear all of the risk of Social Security meltdown with no way to hedge against it. According to the 1998 Social Security Trustee Report, if we stay with the status quo, we will either have to cut benefits by 25%, raise taxes by 50%, drastically cut government spending on other programs, or increase the federal debt.
But I am most baffled by the support of these groups for government investment in the stock market. Such ill advised investment would give an enormous advantage to large traded companies, with all of their alleged problems of wage inequities and glass ceilings, over small businesses. And that’s precisely where women have made their greatest gains and achieved economic success and independence.
According to the National Foundation of Women Business Owners, women own 7.7 million businesses, employing 15.5 million people and generating $1.4 trillion in sales. Female owned businesses are growing more rapidly than is the overall economy and are more likely to have remained in business over the past three years than the average U.S. firm. (I like to believe it’s because women are more likely to stop and ask for directions.) It simply doesn’t make sense from a woman’s point of view to tip the scales against female entrepreneurs in favor of Fortune 500 companies.
There is much more to be said on this topic, but let me close with this:
One hundred and fifty years ago, Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued before the New York legislature that we are “persons; native, free-born citizens; property-holders, tax-payers” and that a woman has “a right to the property she inherits and the money she earns.” How far we have strayed from the cause for true liberation that in 1999 the possibility of private ownership and control of our retirement assets is controversial; that women are painted as timid and easily duped; and that the freedom to choose and plan for one’s retirement is better left to the wisdom of government officials.
Reforming Social Security to take into account the differences in women’s work history, longevity and poverty rates will take imagination and resolve. Earnings sharing, where spouses split retirement savings in separate accounts, is one such solution. Ensuring a safety net for elderly women, who are most likely to suffer from poverty, must also top any reform agenda. But do not be fooled by those who would use these differences to thwart honest efforts. Social Security reform is a woman’s issue — now more than ever.