Privatizing Social Security will hurt women

OPINION

These remarks were delivered at a joint press conference at the National Press Club, Dec. 16, 2004, with leaders of the AFL-CIO, NAACP and others.

It’s a pleasure to be here as part of such a distinguished panel of leaders. Today I’m speaking on behalf of the more than 700,000 contributing members of the National Organization for Women, and also as co-chair of the Social Security Task Force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, representing over 10 million women across the country.

I was a math major in college, and one of my favorite books was “How to Lie with Statistics” — it’s a real eye-opener. But when it comes to Social Security, this administration has an opportunity to turn over not billions but trillions of dollars of our money to Wall Street, so why should they bother with the numbers? Apparently if you say “the sky is falling” often enough, and it’s echoed in the corporate media, people begin to believe it’s the truth. You’ve already heard why it’s not true, so I’ll leave most of the debunking to the economists on the panel, but I’ll say this:

Social Security is NOT in trouble: The Social Security system will be able to pay full benefits for several more decades — until 2052 according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Does the system need to be strengthened? Sure it does — but the administration’s proposal is like rescuing a treed cat with an infantry battalion—you end up with an injured cat and a whole lot of collateral damage.

On the other hand, George Bush is in trouble. He’s got a big debt to pay to his friends on Wall Street, and he wants to do it fast so that the next group can belly up to the taxpayer trough. The transition costs alone — an estimated $2 trillion — are enough to make Halliburton want to expand into yet another area of government “service.” Some have called this the “biggest bonanza in mutual fund history,” and the financial industry stands to gain as much as $75 billion a year. Where does that money come from? The answer is — you.

They’re even talking about some creative accounting to keep that $2 trillion giveaway off of the budget books — hide it and hope no one notices. Have they hired the Enron accountants to advise the Social Security Administration?

So why is this a women’s issue? Here are some of the reasons:

Women are far less likely than men to have a pension from their jobs, so Social Security is likely to be their primary retirement income.

Even if they have supplemental savings, women live longer on average than men, so their savings run out sooner — and the majority of the very elderly are women whose only source of support is Social Security.

Most women earn less than $25,000 per year — so the administrative costs of such a small private account would eat up most, if not all, of the earnings each year. In Chile, where accounts are privatized, administrative costs consume not only the interest income but as much as one-half of the total contribution.

Women, no matter how clever, will need a lot more than what this administration offers to make them part of an “ownership society.” Instead, we’re heading toward a society where we’re owned by brokerage firms and the vagaries of the stock market.

Women have always been the guardians of their families’ interests, and we won’t stop now. Across the country, women will be standing up against this effort to privatize Social Security. We are determined to strengthen this important family security insurance program to make sure it will be here for our children and grandchildren.



Kim Gandy is president of the National Organization for Women.