San Francisco’s Women’s Leadership Alliance
Position Paper on Social Security


The public policy basis for the Social Security program established in1935 was that a pooling of resources from workers¹ earnings would be used to guaranty benefits to all workers upon their retirement to insure that people could live independently as they aged, without fear of abject poverty.

Benefits are based on work-related earnings, and have presumed the perpetuation of the family structure comprised of the working male and caregiver female in a life-long marriage. Included in this presumption is the male worker having pension funds available as part of the retirement benefit structure, along with interest and/or dividends from invested savings. Since 1935, changes in Social Security have been made to expand coverage and solidify the long-term financial soundness of the program.


Social Security provides significant benefits to women, as follows:

  • Divorced women, married 10 or more years, receive the same benefit as current spouses;
  • Benefits are provided to widows and their young children, and to disabled workers
  • A cost of living increase (COLA) is provided each year
  • Social Security provides guaranteed lifetime benefits, which is particularly significant to women because:
    • Women generally live longer than men
    • Women rely more on Social Security because of their history of not receiving higher incomes, accumulated savings and pension funds

The current structure of the Social Security program presents disadvantages for women, as follows:

  • Time spent care-giving is not considered in determining benefits;
  • Women¹s benefits are generally lower than men¹s benefits because:
    • Women have consistently earned less than men, due to receiving less pay for the same work, and/or in being in traditionally low-paying jobs
    • Women¹s work history is often interrupted for care-giving
  • Non-working widows receive the same benefits as widows who worked
  • The qualification age has been increasing, often requiring people who work in low-paying, physically demanding jobs to work even longer before receiving benefits

Current proposals to privatize Social Security include or exclude provisions that present the following threats to women¹s economic security:

1. No guaranty of lifetime benefits 2. No guaranty of survivor benefits 3. No guaranty of disability income 4. The working spouse controls the potential benefits based on making decisions on the use of the money 5. Women¹s “privatized” accounts are likely to be smaller than men¹s 6. Benefits are subject to market fluctuations


The Women¹s Leadership Alliance (WLA) recommends that public policy and legislation affecting the Social Security program incorporate the following elements:

1. Maintain the current benefits Social Security provides 2. Preserve the long-term financial soundness of the system * Help preserve the long-term funding capabilities of the system by increasing the taxable income cap so that earnings greater than $76,200 would be taxed 3. Rectify the problems in the current system: * Credit care-giving time, provided by women and men, toward Social Security earnings * Calculate appropriate credits for working women * Stop increasing the qualification age * Restore benefits to dependent children who are still in school at the age of 21


Wouldn¹t people be more likely to get a better return on their investments under a privatized system?
The amount of money allocated to private savings accounts is likely to be less than under the current benefit structure because of two factors:

  • The transition costs to a privatized system must be set aside
  • The benefits already being paid to existing retirees or beneficiaries must continue

The return on the invested privatized funds is subject to the types of investments made and market fluctuations. While the current return on equity investments is high, there is no guaranty this level of return will continue. Additionally, privatization plans have not yet included a lifetime guaranteed income of any size, income for dependents, disabled workers, or any divorced spouse benefits.

Will Social Security go bankrupt in 2037?
Projections on the fiscal health of Social Security are based on very conservative assumptions about future economic growth, immigration policy, and demographic changes. If the economy continues to grow as it has been, then funding for Social Security should continue well past 2037. Also, if the current yearly cap on wages taxed for Social Security were raised from the current maximum of $76,200, to a tax on total salaries, the Social Security Trust Fund would likely be solvent indefinitely.

Furthermore, if the conservative figures hold true, then the market returns on private investments will be very low, too. Supporters of privatized plans are presenting contradictory information in claiming that Social Security would be bankrupt, and privatized plans will provide higher returns.


Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: 202-408-1080;
National Council of Women¹s Organizations: 202-842-3100;