Women, Retirement, and Poverty


Retirement and poverty are more linked than we like to think. In fact, women over the age of 65 are more likely to live in poverty than men—regardless of age, marital status, or education. Just a couple of reasons? Women tend to live longer than men, and they tend to be paid less than men, thanks to the gender pay gap.

But there’s also more to the story. Namely, data shows that most retirement savings plans in the United States don’t actually do their job very well. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 401(k)s have largely been a failure for workers in the United States saving for retirement. Further, data from Pew Charitable trusts shows a huge gap in retirement plan participation in North Carolina, writing, “In North Carolina, more than 800,000 full-time, full-year, private-sector wage and salary workers lack access to a retirement savings plan or a pension through their employer.” That means that only 58% of workers in the state can access a workplace retirement plan—ranking North Carolina 35th out of 50.

In terms of participation in workplace retirement plans, the data only gets worse—with 49% of workers in the state electing to save for retirement this way. According to Pew Charitable Trusts’ data, only 23% of respondents surveyed in North Carolina said they were satisfied with their “current personal financial condition when thinking of assets, debts, and savings”.

Indeed, the problem doesn’t look like it’s getting any better for future generations—numbers for both access to and participation in workplace retirement plans only gets lower for younger age groups. The good news is that women do have a percentage of two more access to and participation in retirement savings in North Carolina than men—with an access rate at an abysmal 60%. The bad news? As mentioned above—women tend to live longer and are often paid less for comparable work. So women are at a higher risk of their savings running dry—and experiencing poverty in old age.

Some states, though not many, have passed retirement savings legislation, including policies to expand marketplaces for retirement plans and statewide, opt-out retirement savings programs. However, though legislators did attempt one proposal in 2015, North Carolina is not one of them.

To improve the futures of the women of North Carolina, North Carolina legislators need to act. No one deserves to live in poverty, especially in old age.

What can you, the women of Women AdvaNCe, do to urge legislators to move policy forward on this issue?

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