Social Security: A Lifeline for Latinas

by Mallory Mpare

With talks about the national debt and deficit dominating policy discussions, much attention has been paid to the fabled contributions Social Security makes to the national debt.  As has been said before (but clearly bears repeating), Social Security does not contribute to the national deficit. In fact, poll after poll shows that the American people understand that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit.  Yet it seems that with Social Security still on the table for cuts, this message is not getting through to those who need to hear it most.

How can we make this message resonate? It is important to discuss policy and its wider implications for the economy at large, but we cannot forget that policy is always tied to people. Instead of focusing on the dollars and cents of Social Security maybe we should talk about how changes to the program affect individuals. After all, how long can political leaders continue to ignore the needs of their constituents?

Social Security was created to ensure that the elderly could retire from the workforce in dignity, without fear that after a lifetime of work they might spend their old age in poverty. Today, Social Security is a crucial source of income for many Americans.  An IWPR report details how, even in the midst of efforts to scale back benefits, people are becoming increasingly reliant on Social Security as a source of income. Though men’s reliance has increased more than women’s, the degree ofreliance is greater for women and people of color who tend to have fewer alternative sources of income.

To supplement its report, IWPR released a fact sheet which details the importance of Social Security to Latinas in the United States. Yes, Social Security is designed to redistribute income to low earners and yes, it currently has policies that disproportionately benefit women.

However, it is impossible to fully compensate for a lifetime of gender inequality in wages.

Compound this with labor market discrimination based on race and ethnicity and many Latinas are bound to encounter economic insecurity in old age.  Additionally, Latinas have a higher life expectancy—89 years compared with 85 years for women of all races and ethnicities combined—and tend to be concentrated in low-wage jobs without pensions.

Latinas in the United States account for at least 1.7 million of the total 52.5 million Social Security beneficiaries. After age 64, few Latinas receive income from sources other than Social Security. In fact, only 27 percent of Latinas aged 64–74 report any income from assets and this source of income becomes even scarcer with age (only 21 percent of  those 75 years of age and older report having any income from assets). Yet asset income is the most common source of additional income for older Latinas, after Social Security.

Although many older Latinas rely on Social Security, the benefits they receive from the program are relatively modest. Among Americans aged 75 and older, women as a whole receive average annual benefits of $11,585.  But Latinas of the same age range receive on average just $8,975 in Social Security benefits.  Still, these modest benefits constitute by far the largest share of income for older Latinas. Eighty percent of Latinas aged 75 and older rely on Social Security for at least half of their income and more than half rely on Social Security for all their income.

In other words, for older Latinas, Social Security is not merely a safety net; it’s a lifeline.

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women and Immigration

http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/organizations-working-with-latina-immigrants-resources-and-strategies-for-changeby Mallory Mpare

The U.S. has often been dubbed the “nation of immigrants” and this is no less true today.  However, the face of immigration has drastically changed while policies and practices have failed to adapt. There is a long history of immigrant men seeking opportunity in—well—the land of opportunity by working to provide for families, often left behind in their countries of origin.

No longer is this the singular scenario.

Immigrant women have increasingly sought to reunite their families while also seeking new employment and educational opportunities in the U.S. for themselves. Instead of being met with uplifting and economically empowering opportunities, these women experience disproportionately higher rates of domestic violence, on the job violence, employment discrimination, and sexual exploitation.

At an IWPR release event on March 25 at the Woodrow Wilson Center for the report, Organizations Working With Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change, Sara Manzano-Díaz, Director of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, noted that “comprehensive immigration reform is part of winning the future.” The report notes that, currently, nonprofit organizations and congregations play an integral role in advancing the rights and well being of immigrant families.

In the report, IWPR explored how nonprofits and congregations work with immigrant women, especially low-income Latinas, to better enable them to safely navigate through life in a new, and sometimes hostile, environment. The report notes that although these organizations serve as a vital resource to immigrant women, they face obstacles such as negative public dialogue, restrictive policies and an ever dwindling funding stream which hinder their ability to meet the full needs of immigrant women.

While increasing immigrant women’s access to resources is important, if immigrant women must seek out these resources in a hostile environment, their access will surely remain limited. Of the 280 groups in the study, 120 are involved in some type of advocacy, and seek change a social and political structure which—they feel—deny the rights of immigrant women. Immigrant rights— like women’s rights and human rights—are about preserving personal agency, and allowing space and resources for people to make decisions about their own lives and the lives of their families.

In her presentation at the Wilson Center, Cynthia Hess, Study Director and co-author of the report outlined the wide range of services that nonprofit organizations offer to immigrant women such as English classes, child care, health services, and access to affordable transportation. She noted that, in many cases, religious groups have stepped in to provide services when the government has not, and that a climate of fear—for both documented and undocumented immigrants—may prevent Latina immigrants from seeking services. Fear of being pulled over by the authorities can even lead immigrants to avoid driving.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that IWPR’s report was released on the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy. Many of the victims of that tragedy were working immigrant women and girls. In the days leading up to the Triangle factory tragedy, women organized around their concerns , protesting and forming unions to protect their interests.  However, one well-known factory, The Triangle, refused to recognize these unions and would face tragic consequences as a result.

IWPR’s report, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants, also shows that there are consequences for ignoring the needs of immigrant women and the challenges they face in trying to earn a living in their adopted country.

Other speakers and panelists at the March 25 launch event included Sonya Michel, Director of the United States Studies program at the Wilson Center; Patricia Foxen, Associate Director of Research at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR); Pierluigi Mancini, Executive Director of CETPA (professional mental health counseling services for the Latino community); Jen Smyers, Associate for Immigration and Refugee Policy with Church World Service; Cecilia Menjívar, Cowden Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Arizona State University; Lydia Guzman, President of Somos America; and, Mary Odem, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and History at Emory University. Speaking on behalf of IWPR were Heidi Hartmann, President, and co-authors of the report and Study Directors, Jane Henrici and Cynthia Hess.

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Voices for International Women’s Day

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

International Women’s Day is important for a myriad of reasons, but they all add up to one: achieving equality for women. This day calls on us to remember that women still have to achieve equal access to education, employment, health care, roles in government leadership, resources, and income.  Research from IWPR shows that it will take until 2056 for women to achieve pay parity with men in this United States, based on the pace of progress over the course of the past fifty years.

Slowing progress, women continue to dominate professions traditionally done by women, which typically pay less, despite sometimes having higher education requirements. Women now account for over 95 percent of all kindergarten teachers, librarians, dental assistants and registered nurses in 2009. As further evidence of this, women now make up 61 percent of the local government workforce, with the highest number—at 22 percent— working as elementary and middle school teachers.

Today on Twitter, many men and women used their voices to call for change and progress.

The conversation on the significance of International Women’s Day has been spirited. The Ms. Foundation for Women tweeted “We have far to go. U.S. ranks 37th out of 42 highly developed nations in terms of gender equality.” Musician and women’s rights advocate as Oxfam Global Ambassador, Annie Lennox wrote: “Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, earn ten percent of world’s income and own one percent of the world’s property.”

Some women may not have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of their rights, consumed with finding basics of survival. Médecins Sans Frontières tweeted about its efforts to bring surgery to women suffering from obstetric fistulas, which can be life-threatening when left untreated.

In the political arena, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced during the launch of the 100 Women Initiative aired live yesterday on the State Department’s website, “I believe that the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century.” And former civil rights activist, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) commented on Twitter: “On the 100th IWD, there are still too many women in too many parts of the world who are left out and left behind.”

These are just a few of the statements made today in honor of International Women’s Day. It is inspiring to see such an outpouring of support for women’s issues. This conversation should carry on beyond today as a reminder there is still work to be done.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.