A group of Senate Democrats has asked Congress’ watchdog agency to examine the impact of the pay gap between men and women on the ability of women to save for retirement.
Released in conjunction with Equal Pay Day, the March 14 letter from Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requests that the agency examine to what extent women have experienced pay discrimination at work and how it has affected their financial stability in retirement. Committee members Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and John Fetterman (D-PA) also signed on to the letter.
The senators contend that, despite women’s increasing role in the workforce, a persistent wage gap exists—leaving women at a disadvantage, harming their ability to save for retirement and even potentially reducing the money they receive through Social Security.
“Because Social Security benefits are based on a worker’s earnings, the pay gap means that women receive lower benefits in retirement than men. Unequal pay also means that women have less to save and invest on their own, and are less able to take advantage of employer sponsored retirement accounts,” the senators wrote.
They further cite a report from the National Institute on Retirement Security that found that men with savings in a DC plan were “the only group to reach six figure earnings,” whereas women with those savings “will barely achieve $72,000 in earnings at the peak of their career.” They emphasize, “This is particularly troubling in light of the fact that women typically live longer than men, meaning they must pay for more years of retirement with less money than male retirees.”
As such, the Aging Committee members submit that Congress needs to better understand how the pay gap impacts the ability of women to save and their quality of life after retirement.
“We would like GAO to ask older women directly via interviews, focus groups, panels, or a survey about their experiences with pay discrimination in the workplace and the impact it has had on their ability to save for and secure an adequate retirement,” they write.
Specifically, the senators ask GAO—which is an independent, non-partisan agency that works for Congress and is often called the “congressional watchdog”—to address:
1. To what extent do women, including women of color, LGBTQ+ women, women with disabilities, and women with other intersectional characteristics, report experiencing pay discrimination at work? Are there common themes and circumstances in their reported experiences?
2. For those who do feel they experienced pay discrimination, what do they believe was the cause of their pay gap relative to male employees?
3. Do women with intersectional characteristics believe they experienced multiple forms of discrimination? If so, do they believe those characteristics resulted in a larger pay gap?
4. What other factors do women believe led to differing rates of pay, including occupational segregation and the devaluing of the work done by marginalized populations? Do they report that other earnings penalties associated with being disabled or being a woman (for instance the need to take time out of the labor market for caregiving or for medical treatment) affected their abilities to save for retirement?
5. For those who did experience pay discrimination, how has it affected their financial security in retirement?
Paycheck Fairness Act
In the meantime, in recognition of Equal Pay Day, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), along with just about all House and Senate Democrats, reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that “would combat wage discrimination and help close the wage gap by strengthening the Equal Pay Act of 1963, ensuring women can challenge pay discriminations and hold employers accountable.”
“For a woman working full time year-round, the current wage gap accounts for a loss of more than $400,000 over the course of their career,” the lawmakers said in a statement announcing the legislation. “This wage gap continues to hurt women’s ability to save for retirement and reduces their total Social Security and pension benefits, making older women more likely to live in poverty.”