2016 has been an annus horribilis for many of us idealists who are still trying to come to terms with a narcissistic President Elect Trump who lacks even a pretense of a moral compass. In a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, First Lady Michelle Obama put it this way: “We are feeling what not having hope feels like…. We Feel the difference now…. Hope is necessary. It’s a necessary concept.”
I agree that hope is necessary and that if we do not find a collective voice imminently we could lose fundamental, economic rights that we take for granted. Many of these rights disproportionately impact women and it is incumbent upon feminist groups to recognize that basic economic rights a Trump administration could erode, like Social Security, Medicare, or a federal minimum wage, are women’s rights, as well as men’s rights, and that we must coordinate our voices into a primal scream to protect these rights. For example, take Social Security. There is a lot of noise right now that a Trump administration could introduce measures to erode Security benefits and this would disproportionately impact women. For even though women receive only about 75 cents for every dollar a man receives in Social Security retirement benefits, Social Security accounts for almost half of an unmarried woman’s retirement income versus 34 percent for men. Furthermore, nearly half of all elderly unmarried women receiving Social Security benefits relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income, a far higher percentage than for men https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/women-alt.pdf. In other words, nearly half of elderly women depend almost exclusively on Social Security to put food on their table in their senior years. Social Security is indeed what separates many women from the proverbial bag lady status we dread in old age. Chipping away at this benefit equates to quietly eroding the dignity of our most vulnerable citizens.
While Trump campaigned not to cut Social Security, he has surrounded himself with advisors who want to reduce benefits by raising the Social Security retirement age to 69 and by cutting benefit amounts over time. These policy remedies would be regressive and a cave to business interests which oppose the other obvious policy prescription to address long term Social Security solvency, namely removing the cap on Social Security payroll taxes.
If we are honest with ourselves, we need to recognize that most Americans are not able to save enough for our retirement. While in theory we like to uphold the concept of individualism and self-reliance, most can barely make our paychecks meet today’s demands, given soaring healthcare and college costs. We just don’t get around to saving for retirement. Indeed, more than half of Americans and 63 percent of women have under $10,000 in retirement savings according to a recent survey https://www.gobankingrates.com/retirement/1-3-americans-0-saved-retirement/.
So why would we allow cuts to Social Security, the very institution that separates us from abject poverty in old age? This could only happen if we lose hope that our voices matter and we remain silent.
So let’s show Michelle Obama that we have the resolve to remain hopeful. Let’s fight for Social Security in 2017.