Women Confront Retirement Security, Family Leave Issues
Women earn $2.4 trillion annually, but despite those gains women are at an increased risk of dying alone and in poverty, according to one financial planner.
Debra Clark, a certified financial planner with Hornor, Townsend, and Kent Inc., told a group of women gathered Saturday at the Legislative Office Building that they need to demand to be involved in the financial planning process.
Clark made her remarks during a panel discussion sponsored by the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and Vision 2020.
She said women need to continue to fight for equal pay because it makes such a big difference, not only in their take home pay, but in their retirement planning.
An individual earning $50,000 a year, who is enrolled in a company retirement plan which is contributing 3 percent that’s a $1,500 contribution. If person across the hall is doing the same exact job and earning $30,000 that contribution drops to $900.
“That $600 difference may not sound like a lot but when you compound that over the course of 10, 20, 30, 40 years it amounts to thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Clark said.
She said women need to be comfortable making long-term financial decisions because it’s often their quality of life that suffers, if they don’t.
Sen. Toni Harp, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said a lot of what the General Assembly does impacts the financial security of women.
“Women have got to be part of the political conversation,” Harp said. “Right now, we’re not.”
She said every year the legislature’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women is threatened by budget cuts and wholesale elimination when they’re the ones lobbying on behalf of women’s issues at the state Capitol.
There are forces in state government that “think 77 percent is enough for you,” Harp told the women gathered for the day long session. “If you don’t think it’s enough then you have got to become activated and support those groups that support you.”
One of the issues the General Assembly faced this year was a proposal to increase the minimum wage.
“This is a women’s issue,” Harp said.
She said she understands women are busy with their multifaceted lives and often don’t know the issues that impact their lives, but she urged women to get involved. If they had maybe the disposition legislation would have been different.
The minimum wage increase died during the last legislative session when the state Senate refused to take it up.
Harp said 35.5 percent of Connecticut women ages 16 or older make the equivalent of a yearly minimum wage. Of those earning the minimum wage or below, 63 percent of all of them are women and 37 percent are men.
“Increasing the minimum wage is a significant issue for women, and yet you don’t really see us, except for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, championing that,” Harp said.
She said women often have very low salaries and have a hard time contributing to a retirement savings account, if they can afford to do that.
One woman in the audience wanted to know what the legislature is doing to address those caught up in the sandwich generation. The sandwich generation is still taking care of their adult children and their elderly parents at the same time. The woman said her employer has given her some flex time to use, but there are issues that come up quickly and not every employer is as generous as hers with their time.
“That is becoming a real drag on our retirement plans because we will miss time out of the workforce to care for our parents,” Clark said.
Natasha Pierre, policy and legislative director for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, said that’s one of the issues they plan to address this year.
The family care issue is an emerging issue for the commission. With Connecticut to become the first state in the nation to adopt Paid Sick day legislation, they’re looking to advance that legislation with Paid Family leave.
Pierre said it’s a difficult issue for the state because Connecticut doesn’t have a state disability program. Most disability insurance is purchased privately so there’s no public system for paid family leave and the state would be responsible for setting up a system for it.
She said they’re in the early stages of the conversation but were thinking about setting up some sort of employer-based system where an employee could pay into it and if you need it the money would be there.
Over the summer Pierre said she received calls on both ends of the spectrum for family leave, those who are caring for elderly parents and those who are new parents having their first child.
“The husbands are calling the office and saying, ‘My wife is going on leave so where’s the fund that she gets the money from?’,” Pierre said.
Pierre’s had to explain that Family Medical Leave Act just makes sure the woman gets her job back, it doesn’t pay for her maternity leave.
She said the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women is looking at paid family leave as a proposal, but aren’t sure how quickly they would be able to get legislation since they first need to come up with a system to finance it.