In this video, Elena Chavez Quezada introduces two working women in her family who didn’t get a fair shot at a comfortable retirement.
Her mother-in-law, a single mother and immigrant from the Dominican Republic, pieced together a living for herself, her parents, and her children. She never had a 401(k) or owned a house. Each time she built up a little savings, an emergency depleted it. Now in her 70s, she is supported by her son and Quezada.
Quezada’s aunt possessed the personality of a chief executive but worked as a housekeeper and sold snow cones and hot dogs at her husband’s stand in Albuquerque. After his death, she worked well into her 90s as a receptionist for a hair salon.
The goal for retired women like them should be “to age comfortably and with dignity,” said Quezada, a senior director for the San Francisco Foundation, which supports communities in the Bay area.
That’s very difficult for many older women to do. They have less wealth, and although their poverty rate has declined, women – many of them widows – still make up the vast majority of poor people over 80. This is rooted in part in their years as working women, when they earned less. Women are also the majority of single parents raising their families on a single paycheck.
A lack of a retirement plan is a common problem. More than half of the women employed full-time or part-time in the private sector are not saving in a retirement plan at any given time. …Learn More
The poverty rate for widows has gone down over the past 20 years. This trend will probably continue for the foreseeable future.
Women face the risk of slipping into poverty when a husband’s death triggers a drop in retirement income from Social Security and a pension (if he had one). But beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, women moved into the nation’s workplaces at an unprecedented pace.
Women now make up nearly half of the labor force and are more educated, which means better jobs – and better odds of having their own employer retirement plan. As a result, they have become increasingly financially independent.
This trend of greater independence is now showing up among older women. Widows between ages 65 and 85 put in 10 more years of work than their mother’s generation, which has helped push down the poverty rate from 20 percent in 1994 to 13 percent in 2014, according to the Center for Retirement Research. …Learn More
Kathleen Rehl’s husband died in February 2007, two months after his cancer diagnosis. She has taken on the mission of helping other widows process their grief, while they slowly assume the new financial responsibilities of widowhood. Rehl, who is 72, is a former financial planner, speaker, and author of “Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows.” She explains the three stages of widowhood – and advises women to take each stage at their own pace.
Question: Why focus on widows?
Rehl: After a husband dies, and whether it’s unexpected or a long-lingering death, there is a numb period. Some widows refer to it as “my jello brain” or “my widow’s brain.” It’s a result of how the body processes grief. The broken heart syndrome is actually real. After a death, the immune system is compromised, and chronic inflammation can happen. It’s hard to sleep at night and there can be digestive difficulties. Memory can be short, attention spans weakened, and thinking downright difficult. You’ve got this grief, and yet the widow might think, “What do I have to do?” The best thing she can do initially is nothing.
Q: Why nothing?
Rehl: I talk about the three stages of widowhood: grief, growth, grace. At first, she’s so vulnerable that if she’s making irrevocable decisions immediately, they may not be in her best interest. The only immediate things she might need to do are file for benefits like Social Security and life insurance and make sure the bills are still being paid. All widows need to take care of these essential financial matters. But major decisions should be delayed. I knew one widow whose son said, “Move in with us.” That would’ve been a really bad decision, because she didn’t get along with the daughter-in-law, and it would’ve introduced another type of grief – loss of place, loss of friends. Then her son got a job in Silicon Valley and moved away.
Or a widow deposits her life insurance in the bank, and a helpful teller says, “I think Fred in our wealth management department down the hall can see you because you need to do something with your money.” Fred sells her a financial product she doesn’t understand, and two or three months later, when she’s coming out of her grief, she thinks, “What did I buy?” One widow came to me who had locked her money into a deferred annuity that wasn’t going to pay out for years, and she needed the money now.
Q: With most women working today, aren’t they better equipped than previous generations of widows to handle the finances? …Learn More
Aging is not, as the cliché goes, for the faint of heart. If a woman makes it to 65, she can expect to live at least 20 more years. Three new books written by or about the elderly provide a wonderful roadmap to aging with grace, introspection, gratitude, and humor.
“Coming of Age: My Journey to the Eighties” by Madeleine May Kunin
The former Vermont governor and ambassador to Switzerland has authored books about politics, feminism, and women as leaders. In her new memoir, she has blossomed into an essayist and poet. Kunin, who is 85, muses about defying “death’s black raven” on her shoulder. The color red is one way to achieve this. She bought a Barcelona Red Prius (easier to find in the parking lot), and then she and her late husband, John, purchased two oversized red armchairs. “I wanted to bring life inside – not leave it outdoors. And the red chairs did exactly that,” she says.
In her poem, “I Loved You When You Did the Dishes,” she writes tenderly of John – first as a robust partner, then as a dependent, and always as “the man of my dreams.” Old age has given her permission to let down her guard, which she did not do as a public figure. Now she discloses private matters like thinning skin and her pain when, as a young legislator in the 1970s, male colleagues didn’t take her seriously. But she invariably looks back on her life with humor. Kunin tells one anecdote about ducking into a men’s bathroom to avoid the long line for the women’s room. A man who recognized her immediately said, “I never thought I’d meet the governor here.”
“Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age” by Mary Pipher
Early in her book, Pipher borrows a novelist’s words: “Old age transfigures or fossilizes.” Pipher, who is a psychologist, urges women to aim for transformation or “willing ourselves into a good new place.” The most important thing, she says, is to keep moving along, upriver – memory loss, muscle loss, and stereotypes be damned! Each chapter is a roadmap to that good place: Understanding Ourselves. Making Intentional Choices. Building a Good Day. Creating Community. Anchoring in Gratitude. In the chapter Crafting Resplendent Narratives, she advises readers dealing with difficult situations to “honor our pain and move toward something joyful.” …Learn More
Motherhood, career anxiety, menopause – women, throughout their lives, move from one psychological stressor to the next.
Well, ladies, there’s hope: your stress should start to ease around age 60.
With the #MeToo movement against workplace abuse of young adult women dominating the headlines, there’s a quieter movement of baby boomer women exploring what it means to get old. Book publishers are flocking to writers of self-actualization books like “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age” and “50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life.”
Perhaps publishers sense a market for these books because women of all ages suffer depression at rates two to four times higher than men. But a study in the journal Maturitas finds that many women shed their depression as they move from their mid-40s into their 60s.
To pinpoint individuals’ psychological changes over time, this study analyzed the group of women who participated in a telephone survey from beginning to end, 1992 to 2012.
The women, who live Melbourne, Australia, were asked a battery of questions to determine whether they were depressed – questions about whether they felt optimistic or discontented, socially engaged or lonely, impatient or cheerful, clear thinking or confused.
They were also asked whether they suffered from bad moods, which can be a precursor to depression. The researchers found that the women’s moods improved significantly as they aged. …Learn More
Thousands of baby boomers retire every day and sign up for Social Security. Yet the payroll tax that funds their benefits is being levied on a shrinking share of workers’ aggregate earnings.
You might not know this but inequality and growing U.S. trade with China are among the forces that are behind this trend, Gal Wettstein explains in a new podcast about his research for the Center for Retirement Research (CRR).
This is the latest in a series of podcast interviews in which CRR researchers talk about their work on issues related to work, aging, and retirement. The podcasts are hosted by yours truly.
Others explore how motherhood reduces women’s Social Security benefits, the limited impact of cognitive decline on older workers, and the disparate impact of the same retirement age on different types of workers.
At a recent workshop in downtown Boston, the mostly female audience was asked whether their anxiety level goes up when they ask for a raise or negotiate a salary for a new job.
Hands shot up, and the room erupted in boisterous conversation. “I’m worried about being perceived as being greedy,” volunteered one woman. Another said that her employer told her she earns less than her coworkers because she’s only in her 20s – “even though I’m doing exactly the same things!”
Workshop facilitator Lauren Creamer explained that many women find it difficult to ask for a raise, because they face a double standard that treats them differently than men. “Women are expected to behave a certain way. They’re either nice or competitive and aggressive,” she said. Asking for a raise can be perceived as too aggressive.
Over a lifetime, lower pay for the same jobs their male coworkers are doing put millions of women behind the 8 ball when they’re trying to pay back student loans, buy a house, and save for retirement.
To help them overcome their fear of asking for a raise, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is introducing salary negotiation workshops around the country. “Pay equity – and financial security – is one of our major goals right now,” said AAUW’s Alexandra Howley, who coordinates the Massachusetts program with the Boston mayor’s office and the state government.
In AAUW’s workshop in Boston last month, Creamer and Robbin Beauchamp gave advice in four areas to the women – and three men – attending.
Know Your Value
Before negotiating a raise, be clear on the unique benefits you bring to your workplace – effective facilitator, top salesperson, organizer, etc.
When applying for a new position, tailor your skills and experience to fit the job description in a way that highlights your value to a prospective employer.
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