There are more than twice as many women 65 years old and older living in poverty as there are men in those circumstances. Social Security treats men and women the same, but benefits are based on earnings, and women earn less than men on average. This results in female retirees receiving an average of $13,500 annually in Social Security benefits, while men receive $17,600 on average. Women are also more likely than men to rely on Social Security for a large portion, or even all, of their income. Unmarried women are even more likely to rely primarily on Social Security for income in retirement.
Democrats in Congress want to change Social Security to address this disparity, while remaining gender-neutral. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has introduced a bill that would increase benefits for unmarried, divorced and widowed Americans, as well as some children of retired, disabled or deceased workers. The Retirement and Income Security Enhancements (RAISE) Act would:
- Increase benefits for divorced spouses, permitting those who were married for between five and ten years to receive a phased-in percentage of benefits based on their spouse’s earnings. (Currently divorced spouses are entitled to benefits on a spouse’s earnings only if they were married ten years or longer.)
- Increase benefits for widows and widowers, by providing an alternative benefit for surviving spouses.
- Extend benefits for children of retired, disabled or deceased workers from age 19 to age 23 if they are full-time students.
The enhancements would be paid for with a two percent payroll tax on earnings over $400,000, which are currently not subject to Social Security taxes. The bill would have a net positive effect on the solvency of the Social Security trust fund, extending the projected insolvency date from 2033 to 2034.