We Deserve Better

Nov 1, 2021

The current retirement system has delivered financial security for millions of American women. But through no fault of their own, too many women nearing retirement age continue to face significant financial challenges.

For a quarter century, the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) has been on the front lines advocating for women’s retirement security. I recently participated in WISER’s 25th anniversary symposium, where I joined WISER Founder and President Cindy Hounsell (pictured above) and other thought leaders to discuss the many hurdles that women have historically faced while saving for retirement and the prospects for future improvement.

One of the biggest challenges for many women is remaining in the workforce. In most households, women are the primary caregivers. Many leave the workforce to raise their children; many also leave to provide care to aging parents. 

When women don’t work, women lose out on the opportunity to build significant wealth. Indeed, women who take time off to care for a family member lose over $300,000 in wages, Social Security benefits, and retirement plan income over a lifetime.

Another key challenge is that too many women have historically worked in jobs that lack access to workplace retirement plans. The problem is especially acute for women of color. Two-thirds of Latinas work for employers that don’t sponsor retirement savings plans. And almost three-fifths of African American women ages 65+ have no retirement income from savings and assets.

Expanding access to financial protection tools has been a priority issue for the life insurance industry. We steered the advocacy in 2019 for the passage of the SECURE Act, which increases access to retirement plans.  

Additional measures to improve access are under consideration in Congress. One offered by Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal would establish auto enrollment in 401(k) plans. Workplace retirement plans have a proven record of helping people save. This legislation would help up to 30 million more Americans save for retirement at work. 

SECURE 2.0 is another pending bill that would help women. One of its provisions would allow employers to match employee student loan repayments into a retirement plan. This would be particularly helpful to women since we currently hold 2/3 of all student loan debt.

These are encouraging developments. But more can and must be done. Working together, life insurers, lawmakers and thought leaders can help get these promising proposals across the finish line. And we can also devise new and better ways to provide more women with the retirement security they deserve.

Susan K. Neely

Susan K. Neely is the President and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), the nation’s leading trade association determined to help families live better lives by achieving financial security and certainty. As president and CEO, Neely drives public policy and advocacy on behalf of ACLI’s member companies that represent 95 percent of industry assets and serve 90 million families.