Senior Women in Poverty Congress Is Just Beginning to Look for Ways to Help Older Women Inadequately Covered by Social Security and Pension Programs

By Marilyn Gardner, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 1992 | Go to article overview

Senior Women in Poverty Congress Is Just Beginning to Look for Ways to Help Older Women Inadequately Covered by Social Security and Pension Programs


Marilyn Gardner, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


MARY SOUZA, a great-grandmother in her mid-70s, never expected to spend her retirement years in poverty.

For decades she combined her care-giving roles as wife and mother with part-time work as a dressmaker and then full-time work as a school employee. But she never qualified for Social Security on her own record and was not covered by her late husband's pension. As a consequence, she now lives on just over $500 a month in Social Security payments based on her husband's work record.

"There is no recognition for all the hard work women do, and it really hits home when you retire and see how low your compensation is, financially," says Mrs. Souza, a resident of Foxboro, Mass., who has been widowed for 20 years. With an annual income of less than $6,300, she typifies many of the 4 million older American women who are poor. Nearly three-quarters of the elderly poor are women. Half the elderly women living alone have incomes below $9,500 a year.

Souza is one of four women who testified here in mid-May at a field hearing on older women and poverty. Sponsored by the Subcommittee on Retirement Income and Employment of the United States House Select Committee on Aging, the hearing marked the beginning of federal attempts to correct inadequacies and inequities in Social Security and the private pension system. A blue-ribbon congressional study group will identify solutions, and in September a symposium will spell out priorities and offer suggestions for policy changes.

Mary Flannelly of Brookline, another testifier, spent a working lifetime as a factory worker, public-school matron, government administrator, and clerk. Now she receives a monthly retirement income of $654 from a small pension and Social Security. But she worries that health problems might force her to give up a part-time job paying $354 a month, leaving her unable to meet medical bills.

"I never realized the consequences of working in low-paying jobs that do not offer both Social Security and a pension," says Mrs. Flannelly, who was widowed when her son was young and found herself alone again when she was divorced from her second husband after a 17-year marriage. "No one discussed it then. …

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