Transcript: NOW President Terry O’Neill on the NCPSSM’s report on gender inequality and Social Security reforms

Remarks by Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization of Women, on the NCPSSM’s report on women and Social Security (May 11, 2012): 

Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organization for Women. SOURCE:

“I think that if there is – if there is one of the major challenges facing the United States today, it’s inequality.

“In the past few months, the nation has begun to have a conversation about the problem of inequality and I think we need to focus our conversation on the disproportionate impact that inequality has had on women and continues to have on women.

“We know that the wage gap persists. Women on average are paid only 77 cents to the dollar paid to men. And for women of color, it’s far worse. I think the numbers are around 69 cents to the dollar for African-American women. And just 59 cents to the dollar for Latinas.

“At 59 cents to the dollar, how are you going to save for your retirement? How’s that gonna happen? In fact, a report issued by the Insight Center in 2010 revealed that if you look at the net worth of individuals, the statistics are absolutely shocking.

“Unmarried women, if you break down the net worth by along racial lines, unmarried African-American women’s net worth in 2009 was just $100. Latinas $120. Unmarried white women? $41,500. That is a disparity that cannot continue to exist in our country.

“And the main reason for that disparity is the value of housing and cars. But really the value of housing, and I think those numbers show dramatically what other groups have done in studies, which is to show that mortgage bankers were specifically targeting single moms and particularly single moms of color to sell them inappropriate housing at abusive subprime mortgages. And that was a real problem and has resulted in these drastic levels of unequal net worth for unmarried women.

“By the way, contrasting unmarried women with married couples, in the African-American community, a married couple’s net worth is roughly $35,000. Again, these are 2009 numbers. $35,000 versus $100 for unmarried women. $18,500 approximately in the Latino community for couples. And $167,500 in the white community for couples. So the net worths, I mean, these disparities are absolutely huge.

“Women disproportionately are impacted by these disparities also because we tend to cluster in jobs like retail, home health care, child care, and in the hotel industry – jobs that don’t have – very often don’t have – health benefits, very often don’t have pensions, and don’t even have 401k.

“So, again, at 58 cents to the dollar, 59 cents to the dollar, and no pension and you’re having to come out of pocket for your health care throughout your working life and you don’t even have a 401k, how are you going to save for your retirement years? And the answer is you’re not actually going to save the money.

“So Social Security is the solution. By the time a woman reaches the end of her working career, what she really has is Social Security.

“As Heidi [Hartmann] has said, and as we have said in this paper, Social Security benefits need to be improved for women. But what we need to understand is that it is the core part of the solution for the disproportionate impact of inequality on women. And that is why it’s so important that we have a good base and now we to improve it to meet the needs of 21st century families as both Heidi [Hartmann] and Carroll [Estes] have laid out.

“And one thing I would really like to point out: Politicians and other public figures who claim that Social Security is the problem – that it’s going broke, that it’s in crisis, and therefore we need to cut it – are not being straight with the American people. It is just flat wrong to suggest that Social Security is in crisis or going broke. It is not.

“And politicians who take action to cut Social Security benefits instead of improving them will in fact pay a price at the polls in November and in Novembers after that. There’s just no question about it. The public is not fooled by these claims about Social Security going broke, and their attitude is that even if it is in trouble, the responsible thing for elected officials to do is to fix the problem in a way that allows us to use Social Security and strengthen Social Security and make it better, not cut it back and begin the process of dismantling it.

“Now having said that about politicians, I would like to actually like to give a shout out to some of our best friends on Capitol Hill who are leading the way for Social Security. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been a true champion for us. All last year she fought efforts to cut Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age and we are really grateful for that. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has been a leader. Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan has been a true friend of the women’s movement as well as the civil rights movement, especially his leadership around protecting Social Security. And Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who spoke earlier, has been a real champion for this issue. And there are many more but I just want to say that those who stand up for Social Security will see the benefit at the polls as well as those who try to cut it will pay a price at the polls.

“Now, going forward, my organization – the National Organization for Women Foundation – is partnering with the National Committee Foundation at the grassroots level to get the word out about the importance of improving Social Security benefits for women. Over the next weeks and months, we will be reaching out to our activists in community after community after community. The National Organization for Women has some 350 to 380 active chapters in this country, and we’ll be working with the National Committee Foundation to get the word out. So we’re very excited about moving forward with our campaign to raise awareness, to raise advocacy for improvements to Social Security and not cuts.

“Let me just end by saying some of the very specific – some of the specific cuts that we are actually worried about are an increase in the retirement age. That’s a benefit cut. Make no mistake. We are adamantly opposed to an increase in the retirement age.

“We’re also opposed to means testing. There are some opponents of Social Security who have tried to implement their opposition by suggesting that we should means test Social Security – ‘All these wealthy people, Bill Gates shouldn’t even be getting Social Security.’ And the problem with that as we all know is that in fact that is a masked way of converting Social Security into more of a poverty program, and let’s face it – we know what happens to poverty programs in this country.

“The chained-CPI, as we said a stingier CPI, which is the consumer price index formula to figure out what should be the cost of living adjustment every year for Social Security. Chained-CPI is not only stingy, it is extremely non-representative of the actual living cost and the actual increases in living costs of older people, particularly older women.

“And finally, privatization. I don’t think privatization is going anywhere. Even George W. Bush couldn’t push it through when he had – when Republicans occupied the White House and both houses of Congress. But it’s still out there. There are many advocates on the right wing who would love to privatize Social Security and so we’re going to be fighting that as well.

“Anyway, thank you all very much for being here.”



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2 Comments on “Transcript: NOW President Terry O’Neill on the NCPSSM’s report on gender inequality and Social Security reforms


  2. Pingback: National coalition calls on Congress to improve Social Security benefits for women | What The Folly?!

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