Sabrina L. Schaeffer

Washington is in a stew about the debt ceiling. With massive spending cuts and significant tax increases on the table, special interests are frantically trying to protect their goodies, from targeted tax breaks to the vast array of spending programs. But why are traditional feminists pulling out the stops to prevent a long-overdue, fundamental reform of Social Security?

Two female Democratic lawmakers – Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards (D) and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) – recently led a contingent of female Democratic colleagues in the House in sending a letter to President Obama, urging him against reforming entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare because they claim it would disproportionately hurt women.

“Social Security and Medicaid,” Norton explains “are women’s issues.” Women will be more hurt by cuts to the program than men “because women live longer, have lower incomes, do not have pensions.” Edwards agrees, noting that “Social Security is their security…their groceries, their day-to-day expenses.”

At a time when women outperform men academically, are soaring to the top of nearly every professional arena, are earning more than men in some parts of the country, and have more choices than ever before, feminists should move beyond this antiquated view of Social Security as the best we can do for women. The fact is gender imbalance is a serious liability of Social Security.

Norton and Edwards are taking their cues from national feminist groups like the National Women’s Law Center, which earlier this year criticized Republicans for considering changes to Social Security. In April the NWLC argued, “women are a majority of Social Security and Medicare recipients and more than two-thirds of the elderly-poor – so they will be disproportionately harmed by these cuts.”

What these Democrats and feminist activists are picking up on is that women already suffer under this outdated entitlement program, which doesn’t address the needs of modern women and families. Social Security's benefit structure was designed to fit a 1935 family – a marriage in which the husband was the sole breadwinner. Today, more women work outside of the home, choose to marry later (if at all), and divorce more often than 75 years ago. Still Social Security has remained largely static.

By failing to reform the original benefit structure, Social Security today is highly regressive. In fact, single women and less wealthy, two-earner families are in the position of subsidizing more affluent single-earner couples.

Sabrina L. Schaeffer

Sabrina L. Schaeffer is the Managing Partner of Evolving Strategies and a visiting fellow at the Independent Women's Forum.
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