Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

Saving Money as a Feminist Issue

This week on NPR I heard a spot about how gentrification in artsy Venice Beach, California may cause retirees to have to leave subsidized apartment housing near the beach as developers change the use of their property. This is an important issue, but my ear was caught by something else. Two women, one a retired executive secretary to powerful men, and one an actress who'd had a long career, explained that they would have a hard time moving. All they had was their Social Security, you see. They had no retirement savings.



Let's talk statistics. 2/3 of all women work for less than 30,000 dollars a year. 90% of all women work for less than 50,000 dollars a year. 1/2 of all women work in traditional "women's work" job with little or no pensions. Women in general still earn about 70 cents for every dollar a man earns. Even when we compare "apples to apples", that is, women with similar jobs to men, there is still a gender gap, but a lesser one. In our society, though, we make women's careers bear the brunt of domesticity and child-bearing, and women are shunted into "orange" careers much less lucrative than men's.

Women live longer than men. Half of all marriages end in divorce.
Many women will spend many of their declining years alone. Women make less money, so they need to work harder on saving for retirement. Yet studies tend to show that women invest more conservatively than they should for retirement. The simple fact is that our patriarchal society still does not empower enough women to handle their own finances.

I do not believe it is an accident or genetics that we teach women to "dislike math" by the time they are teenagers. I also believe that even as times change, worlds of women still live the "Cinderella" myth, that some Prince Charming is going to take them away. We do not treat women fairly in this society, and we equip them in droves to retire impoverished.

I listen to a few women say "I am just a shopper" or "I am not good with money" and I just hear "daddy" or "Prince Charming"
in every line. So many embedded assumptions exist about money that can and should be gotten rid of in this society. We're not talking about great wisdom here or stock market timing. I'm talking about basic long-term retirement planning, middle range home ownership, and simple financial cleverness. The lessons needed here are things one could get from a good middle of the road library book, or from 6 issues of a middlebrow consumer guide like Money Magazine or Kiplinger's. This is not talking genius stuff here, or high risk. Indeed, I mean gradual slow self-protection through simple retirement saving/investment.

This issue is vulgar. This issue is not sexy. You can't get people wiring money to non-profits with this issue the way that certain "hot button" issues work for the left or right. This issue is not even a conservative or a liberal issue (though ultra-conservatives who discourage financial independence for women and ultra-liberals who reject participation in the capitalist structure both do immense damage to women in this vein).

As vulgar as money is, though, women are disempowered because they live longer without retirement savings. Although any one middle class woman can only save so much, in masses women shareholders can help change corporations. We have seen this happen in other contexts already. Empowered women with savings can start businesses, help micro-lenders, invest equitably, support candidates in small ways, and participate in the culture in ways that those on Social Security alone cannot do.

I get disappointed when I see so many important but narrow-focused issues get so much attention, and this issue ignored. Millions upon millions of women who could have protected themselves are now 20somethings and 30somethings and 40 somethings who "just can't see their way clear" to start an IRA, contribute to a company pension, start a mutual fund and otherwise empower their declining years. Of course, many folks just don't earn enough. But of those who do, too many ignore this issue. It's just too monetary and financial, for folks who hate both. Even those with modest incomes can take steps to protect themselves.

My theory is that while our society is improving on gender equity, in my lifetime we will not see true economic gender equity. Men will not "protect" women in their old age,either. Women must protect themselves. It is now abundantly clear that government will not do it, no matter which party is in power. Women must protect themselves.

Of course, men need to save more for retirement, too. Many women do save enough for retirement, and many women are financial wizards. But I'm concerned that I meet far too many young women who just "can't save". But this really is the way for women to really help one another--by teaching one another to protect themselves. I don't mean "selling services"; I mean developing primer savings and retirement savvy and implementing non-radical gradual savings for old age. This is a real crisis, and it deserves more attention. I just hate to hear 89 year old women on the radio who worked "real" jobs but have no money. It's something that should pass with time.

Those who are interested in a good website on how to do more might refer to www.wiser.heinz.org. I am sorry to rant on a vulgar topic, but this one matters to me. I'm tired of seeing older women suffer, and younger women who could avoid it run like lemmings to the same fate.
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