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Portia Wu, Vice President

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The Gap that Keeps on Giving: Paycheck Unfairness Hurts in Retirement Too

October 7, 2010 | Workplace Fairness

It is well-documented that the wage gap hurts women and their families by denying them the fair wages that would help them pay for essential items like groceries, gasoline, and rent or mortgage payments. But the pay gap hurts women long after they have left the workforce, too.

The 77 cent wage gap adds up to $430,000 less for full-time women workers over a career. That's $430,000 less that a woman can use not only to support her family but also to support herself in retirement. Not only that -- but over time those wages could have been invested, with additional returns for retirement savings: a Wall Street Journal piece compared hypothetical male and female managers and found that, if the male manager earned $350,000 more than the female manage did over 15 years, he'd also end up saving 23 percent more for retirement if both contributed 10% of their income to their retirement funds each year.

Pensions, too, are based on wages, so the wage gap also carries over into retirement by reducing the funds a woman will receive from her employer pension plan. The average annual pension income for women over age 65 is only $12,856, compared with $19,508 for men - and the wage gap is a good part of the reason.

As Lilly Ledbetter said about the wage discrimination she faced, "It affected me into retirement because my retirement was based on what I earned... And my Social Security is also much less than what I should have, because it is also based on what I earned while working. So I won't only be a second class citizen in their eyes for the time I worked, but I will be for the rest of my life."

There are some actions women and families can take to address this and help keep women out of poverty in old age. But it's fair to look to our government, too. And this fall, when Congress comes back after the elections, let's ask members to take steps to protect women in Social Security and equal pay.

Last week Senator Reid laid down a petition to start debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Senate will vote on this when it returns. Beating the filibuster and passing this bill is one way to address the wage gap that is penalizing millions of us. Another is to ensure that Social Security continues to be there, and gives women a fair break.


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