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Your Terrifying Retirement Future: Why Millions Risk Sliding Into Poverty As They Age

Low wages, low or no savings, and low Social Security benefits. The future is not bright, especially for women and minorities.

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So when you’re talking about retirement insecurity, it’s a triple threat for women of color, who are discriminated against in the labor market, have lower rates of pay, come from households with low to no wealth, and negative wealth in many instances, and often do not have access to private retirement benefits. And then, of course, shoulder the burden of children, and that having a wealth-depleting effect on their personal economic security. So heading into retirement, many women of color, Social Security is all they’ve got. So when you’re talking about cutting benefits, you’re talking about further eroding any kind of economic security for households that are already extremely vulnerable. And have been exploited and vulnerable over a lifetime of work.

We like to think that some of these decisions are deracialized, and that maybe that the policy makers who are opposing these things are not thinking in terms of race. But I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we do not consider race and ethnicity or class. Because when we ignore the impact of proposed policy changes on differently situated groups, we can often make things like poverty much worse. And that undermines and erodes our democracy and we can’t afford to do that.

AlterNet: I completely agree. I wrote a piece on the Senate Finance subcommittee’s recent hearing on Social Security. What I didn’t put in it was how a Democratic senator said, ‘My gosh! What’s a family that’s making $150,000 a year to do?’ I thought, ‘Wow, $150,000 a year is the family you’re concerned about? And this is from a Democrat?’ What do you think is needed to reframe this discussion, so the debate can be forced to talk about solutions that affect people with real needs?

Maya Rockeymoore: I think there are two things that we need to say. The first is there is an economic argument to be made. For most of the 20 th century, America did well. If we expect to do well in the 21 st century, then we can’t erode and undercut the economic prosperity of the nation. And regardless of race and ethnicity, average Americans are pretty bad off. But when you layer on the fact that we have more people coming from households with low to no wealth, becoming a majority of the population—and we expect to still be a superpower? Can we expect to still be a superpower? I would argue no. The fact of the matter is we’re all in this boat together. And if we’re committed to national economic prosperity, and the growing productivity of the nation, we need to consider how we actually produce systems that can support the productivity of workers. Social Security has proven its value and its worth for reducing poverty, and providing insurance benefits for families throughout the 20 th century. It can continue to do so for the 21 st century if policy makers remain committed to the value of social insurance.

The second thing is the democratic argument. Our democracy cannot stand with gross wealth inequality. There may come a time, if we let these trends and trajectories continue, that the institutions that were created will not be able to stand under the weight of the despair that will be created by policies that undercut the economic security of the vast majorities of Americans. But especially those who are already vulnerable. We cannot expect that our democratic institutions will be considered valid; that they will continue to be relevant when the vast majority of our population lives in squalor and poor circumstances. And so, if we care about prepetuating this great democratic experience we call the United States of America, we should care about making sure that we are producing policies that are in the best benefit for the majority of the nation—but especially those who have been vunerable traditionally.