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March 25--More women are living longer and this could be bad news for too many of them, experts say.
"Women have a range of lifelong challenges that conspire against them remaining fiscally comfortable in their old age," said Robert MacLaughlin of California'sAssembly Committee on Aging and Long-term Care. "They risk spending their last years in poverty."
It's a problem Leanne Martinsen, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging Serving Napa and Solano, said she sees too often.
"Women tend to live longer, to have not worked in jobs that provided them with enough pensions and/or pay as much, so they don't put as much into the Social Security system," she said. "So, they're living longer with fewer resources and that's a problem with a lot of the women we see. They have problems making ends meet."
Men generally have careers that take them through retirement, Martinsen said.
In their own old age, then, "women often end up, having families living with them or having to access financial support from them, or from the government for medical or housing subsidies," Martinsen said.
"People envision living out their lives as independently as they want to be, if their health allows, but a lot of the issues that come to us about someone needing assistance to pay their bills, wouldn't exist if they had more resources," she said.
Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, who chairs the Assembly Aging and Long-term Care Committee, is holding a lecture series on the "Faces of Aging," with a recent installment exploring the issues facing the "increasingly large demographic of aging women," according to her office.
"Women are keenly aware of the high cost of longer life-spans," Yamada said in a statement. "Life-long pay inequities, less access to pensions and new trends to charge women more for long-term care insurance are eroding opportunities for women to plan and achieve financial security."
Women comprise some 57 percent of the 65+ population, and 66 percent of those 85 and over, she said.
"There are a range of issues that impact older women's ability to strategize financial security for later in life," MacLaughlin said. "Occupation segregation in jobs with less good benefits and pay; unpaid time off to raise children or be a caregiver. The upshot is that the fiscal forecast for older women is poor. It does not look good."
A recent Yamada-organized hearing on the matter discussed "the physical and fiscal realities confronting older women, including the cumulative effects of lifelong wage disparities and uncompensated caregiving," her office said.
"Women who live, on average, five years longer than men, and who have in many cases left the workforce prematurely to care for an ailing spouse, special needs child, or their elderly parents, find that their financial resources are exhausted by the time they themselves age into the need for care," said Yamada, who represents parts of Solano, Napa and several other counties. "With fewer financial resources remaining, many single older women face a long, lonely and bleak retirement."
There are several ways officials might address this issue, experts say.
"Equal pay for equal work might be one be one answer," Martinsen said. "Also acknowledgment that family caregiving is valuable and maybe offering a tax credit. We have a family leave act now allowing people time to care for an ill family member, but there's still no compensation that comes their way. It's a problem that's increasing as we live longer, so it would nice for our policy makers to come up with solutions now rather than later."
Yamada says she hopes to help address some of these harsh realities with a bill that would ban gender-based pricing in long-term care insurance. Companies offering these plans want to charge women more than men, specifically because they do tend to live longer, she said, and that's adding insult to injury.
"Older women are the majority of older Californians and are already challenged with financial insecurity," she said. "State policies that prohibit discriminatory pricing based on gender are worth fighting for."
Contact staff writer Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at Rachelvth.
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