Treatment of Women in the U. S. Social Security System,

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1 Treatment of Women in the U. S. Socia Security System, By Jane L. Ross and Meinda M. Upp* This artice, a reprint of a paper presented in 1988 to the Internationa Socia Security Association, traces the debate from 1970 through 1988 over treatment of women in the Socia Security system. It traces issues reating to working women, coupes with two earners, homemakers, widows, and divorced women. It describes the debate that ed to widespread support for the concept of earnings sharing. It then addresses the paradox that despite continued widespread support for earnings sharing, despite continuation of the factors underying its proposa, by 1988 no comprehensive egisation reated to the treatment of women under Socia Security had been enacted nor was being generay contempated. This is sti true in The artice argues that apparenty insouabe, inherent conficts among the objectives underying earnings sharing utimatey doomed its enactment. Cost considerations, the reaization of unintended side effects, and issues reating to transition to a very different Socia Security system aso heped remove earnings sharing from the egisative agenda. The artice aso describes the roe poicy anaysis payed in the debate over this proposed reform. *Ms. Ross, formery of the Socia Security Administration (SSA), is Associate Director for Human Resources and Income Security at the Genera Accounting Office. Ms. Upp is a senior poicy anayst in the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Programs, SSA. This artice is reprinted from a presentation to the Internationa Socia Security Administration in The Issues section of this paper draws heaviy from Reno and Upp, Socia Security and the Famiy and from the Socia Security 1979 Advisory Counci, Socia Security Financing and Benefits Report of the 1979 Advisory Counci. The section on Conficting Objectives draws on Socia Security Administration s unpubished paper, Deveopment of the Advisory Counci s Interim Recommendations on the Treatment of Women. Beginning in the eary 1970 s and continuing through the eary 1980 s, there were pressures to examine and consider changes in the structure of the U.S. Socia Security system to improve its effects on the equity and adequacy of benefits for women. (In this paper the U.S. Socia Security system incudes the retirement, survivors, and disabiity programs.) A series of demographic, economic, and socia changes affecting American famiies had resuted in questions being raised about how women fare under Socia Security. Briefy summarized, the issues reated to: Better returns for working women and more equitabe distribution of benefits for coupes with one earner and coupes where both spouses worked. Recognition of the economic vaue of homemaking. More equitabe and adequate benefits for widows. More equitabe and adequate benefits for divorced women. This paper discusses features of the Socia Security system as if they appied differenty to men and women. This is not the case. The U. S. system is genderneutra. However, many provisions affect men and women differenty because of their different ifetime earnings patterns. For exampe, in the U. S. system, as discussed beow, a person receives an amount equa to the higher of the amount he or she receives as a worker or the amount to which he or she is entited as a spouse or widow or widower. [In point in fact, one aways receives first the amount to which one is entited as a worker and then a suppement equa to the difference, if any, between that amount and the amount to which one is entited as a spouse.] This feature insures that virtuay no men receive benefits based on their wives eamings, whie about three-fifths of women receive benefits as wives or widows of their husbands. Because of this and other characteristics of the U. S. system that have a somewhat different effect for most women than for most men, the issues wi be described as though they reate excusivey to women. 56 Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56, No. 3 Fa 1993

2 Working Women Over the past severa decades, the abor-force participation of women, especiay married women, has increased dramaticay. As a consequence, the famiy pattern of working husband and fu-tie homemaker wife is much ess common than it was in ate 1930 s when the Socia Security cash benefits program began. One resut of this change was a reaization by many women that the Socia Security system did not provide them what they considered to be a sufficient return on the Socia Security taxes they paid-particuary when they compared their future retirement benefits to those that woud be received by fu-time homem akers. Shorty after the inception of the U.S. Socia Security program, benefits were added for the wives and widows of workers on the presumption that benefits for a coupe in which ony the husband worked woud not be adequate in retirement and, because wives are ikey to outive their husbands, they woud need benefits in widowhood. The wife of a worker usuay may receive an amount equa to haf her husband s benefit and after he dies, a benefit equa to his retirement benefit. A person cannot receive the sum of what she is entited to receive as a wife pus what she can receive as a worker; in effect, she receives an amount equa to the arger of the two benefits. Working women argued that the margina increase in their benefit amount (if any) over what they coud get as a wife was not an adequate return on their taxes. Payment of the wife s benefit aso meant that in genera, a coupe where ony one spouse was entited as a worker woud receive more in Socia Security retirement benefits than a coupe where both spouses had worked and whose tota income was the same as the one-earner coupe. Homemakers women are seen to be making economic contributions by working inside as we as outside the home. In terms of Socia Security, the concern was to change the system in a way that eiminated the concept of women s dependency on their spouses and gave Socia Security credit for years spent in homecare activities. The U. S. system is designed to repace earnings ost when a worker retires, becomes disabed, or dies. Unike the systems of some other countries, it does not provide a universa entitement or demogrant. Nor can a nonearner make vountary payments to receive Socia Security credits. Thus, a ifetime homemaker who has not worked ong enough to quaify for Socia Security benefits in her own right can receive them ony on the basis of her reationship to her husband. Further, ifetime homem akers cannot quaify for benefits if they become disabed and if they die, their famiies do not receive survivors benefits, married women can receive retirement benefits ony after their husbands caim such benefits. In addition, women who both worked for pay and who cared for chidren at different times in their ives argued that they were unfairy disadvantaged as a resut of having had no or ow earnings whie caring for chidren. In the U. S. system, benefits are based on average earnings over a norma working ifespan. The 5 years with the owest or no earnings may be dropped from the averaging period, but for many women those drop-out years did not adequatey compensate for reduced e arnings or nonearnings during chidc are years. Widows Another societa force bringing pressure for change was the fact that whie the economic status of the aged as a group improved dramaticay over the prior two decades, oder women, especiay widows iving aone, continued to be very much at risk of iving in poverty. One of the socia changes occurring Athough over the years a number of in the e ary 1970 s was <an increasing steps had been taken to improve the eve perception of marriage as a partnership of widows benefits. cas sti were made in which each spouse s contribution is of to use the Socia Security system to imeconomic vaue to the famiy. Thus, prove widows economic we-being. Voices advocating higher benefits for widows soon were joined by others concerned with equity between survivors of coupes with two-earners reative to those with one-earner. This concern stems from the fact that nonworking women may receive a benefit equa to 100 percent of their deceased husband s benefit. Survivors of coupes where both spouses had worked can receive ess than survivors of one-earner coupes with the same tota earnings. Divorced Women Finay, the rising divorce rate of the mid-1960 s focused attention on the adequacy of benefit protection for women who had spent many yecars as homem,akers and whose divorced spouse benefits were, at most, haf of the former spouses worker benefits. Divorced women receive the same benefits as married women. That is, if they are not eigibe for a higher benefit on their own record and were married for at east 10 years, they may get a retirement benefit equa to haf their exhusband s benefit. Before the aw was changed in 1983, they coud receive this divorced wife benefit ony after their exhusband retired (an event, they argued, that itte affected their own economic status). Of even greater concern was the inadequacy of a divorced spouse benefit if it was to be a primary source of income for the ex-wife and the fact that it did not recognize her contributions to the marriage as a housewife. Cas for Change The combination of these four distinct but reated changes cuminated by the 1970 s in a ca for an examination of how various provisions of the retirement, survivors, and disabiity programs affected women. Proposas for change in the treatment of women by the system tended to coaesce around very ambitious pans for comprehensive overhau. One such phan was a doube decker option in which a new two-ayer benefit system woud be estabished. A fat doar benefit woud be payabe to everyone, regardess of Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56, No. 3 Fa

3 earnings, who met certain requirements (a demogrant). In addition, an earningsreated benefit woud be payabe on the basis of earnings from empoyment covered by Socia Security. For a variety of reasons this pan was dismissed in the ate 1970 s and wi not be discussed in detai here. A second option, and one that drew more widespread support, was earnings sharing. The main idea of earnings sharing is simpe-that marriage is a partnership of equas and that each partner shoud have equa credit for tota famiy earnings. This concept impies that each shoud have equa Socia Security protection in his or her own right rather than on the basis of marita reationship or dependency on the other spouse. The basic assumptions about who shoud receive Socia Security benefits and under what circumstances are different under earnings sharing than under present aw. Under earnings sharing, it is assumed that neither spouse is economicay dependent on the other because both spouses contribute tow ard the we-being of the famiy whether as a paid worker, an unpaid homemaker, or both. Therefore, under earnings sharing, SO percent of the tota annua earnings of the coupe woud be credited to each spouse s individua earnings record. The benefits for each spouse woud be based on one-haf of the coupe s e,arnings during years of marriage and on individua earnings whie unmarried. During the ate 1970 s and eary 1980 s, severa nationa groups considered proposas to incorporate the earnings sharing concept into Socia Security. The 1979 Socia Security Advisory Counci, 1980 Nationa Commission on Socia Security, and the 1980 President s Commission on Pension Poicy expressed interest in the earnings sharing approach as a concept, but none endorsed a specific proposa. In 1979 and the eary 1980 s, staff in the Department of Heath, Education, and Wefare, which housed the Socia Security Administration (SSA), undertook extensive anayses of the costs and distributiona impications of numerous earnings sharing pans, transition schemes, and guarantees for different types of groups. The egisative proposas were made and hearings were hed on Capito Hi and some consensus seemed to be buiding around the earnings sharing concept. In the end, there has been no poicy change as a resut of a of this anaysis, discussion, and debate. By the mid 1980 s, the pressure for discussion and ch ange had diminished to the point that today [ there is itte momentum behind proposas for comprehensive reform and amost as itte for incrementa changes. This paper discusses some of the economic and socia forces that underay the proposas for changes, describes the principa proposa for comprehensive reform and, finay, suggests some expanation of why reasons that pressure for changes have diminished derying forces remain. whie the un- The Four Issues Giving Impetus to - Socia Security Reform This section describes in greater detai the issues that were the underying force behind proposas for comprehensive reform of Socia Security in the 1970 s and eary 1980 s. The reform proposa most commony advocated was earnings sharing. This section aso presents the arguments that were made about how earnings sharing woud resove the issues reating to working women, homemakers, widows, and divorced women. Better Return for Working Women Concerns about benefits received by working wives began to be raised in the eary 1960 s as women who had worked during Word War II began to retire and as women s participation in the work force grew dramaticay. The dissatisfaction focused on a perception that the return on Socia Security taxes paid by married women workers was not satisfactory. Possiby the most far-reaching transformation of the U.S. abor force during this century has been its increasing feminization. In the eary 1900 s, ess than 1 woman in 5 was in the abor force: by the eary 1980 s, more than 6 in 10 women aged 20 to 64 were in the abor force. The growth in participation was uneven among various age groups. In the first four decades of the century, women of chid-bearing ages increased their abor-force participation at a sighty faster rate than oder women. If there were to be a permanent increase in femae abor-force participation rates, one woud expect the change to begin with young women. 2 However, between 1940 and 1960, participation rates decined for women in their chidbearing years---between 20 and 35-whie jumping dramaticay for those over age 35. After 1960, the pre pattern re-emerged, but on a greaty magnified scae. During the ast decade, the participation rate of U.S. women ages has risen by more than 2 percentage points per year.3 Currenty, the participation rate for women ages is about 70 percent. 4 Another way to iustrate the tremendous increase in femae abor-force participation is to compare the rates at various ages across cohorts. Women born between 1920 and 1940 had reativey high participation at ages 20 to 24, a drop off in the remainder of the chidbearing years, and an increase again after age 35. In contmst, the 195s birth cohort has shown no decine in participation during its chidbearing years. 5 In terms of the pressures to reassess the Socia Security system as a resut of increased abor-force participation, the changed patterns for married women are especiay reev,ant. Labor-force participation among married women increased from ess than 14 percent in 1940 to more than SO percent in the 1980 s. Looking just at married women between the ages of 20 and 55, the current participation rate is over 60 percent. 6 As more married women estabished potentia eigibiity for Socia Security benefits based on their own earnings records, it is not surprising that working married women became dissatisfied with a system designed in an era of the stayat-home housewives. Ironicay, in 1939, when enacting the Socia Security amendments that provided for the spouse benefit, Congress anticipated that more and more women woud work and become eigibe for benefits on their own 58 Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56. No. 3 Fa 1993

4 earnings records. What was not foreseen was the debate that woud be caused by the continued existence of the wife s benefit. Working women compared the benefit amount to which they were entited as a worker on their own record to that to which they were entited as the wife of a worker and were not satisfied with the m argina gain from their own work. Indeed, in 1985, more than one-third of women who were in fact eigibe for benefits on the basis of their own earnings aso received benefits as wives or widows of workers. These women argued that their years of Socia Security taxes gained them nothing in retirement that they woud not have received for free on the basis of their husband s earnings. Because of the way the U.S. Socia Security benefit formua works, a woman whose ifetime average indexed earnings are ess than one-sixth of those of the coupe s tota ifetime earnings wi aways be eigibe for a arger benefit on her husband s earnings record than on her own. Ony if the wife earned at east one-third of the coupe s tota ifetime indexed income is she guaranteed a arger retirement benefit on the basis of her own earnings than she can receive as a wife. Thus, up to the point at which her income represents a substantia portion of the coupe s tota income, she may receive a benefit in retirement that is no higher than if she had never paid (any Socia Security taxes. As shown in tabe 1, the age-65 nonworking wife of a worker retiring at age 65 in 1988 with average indexed monthy e arnings of $1,290 receives a monthy retirement benefit of $3 13 as a spouse. If she worked, but earned an indexed average of ony $200 (or onesixth of the coupe s joint earnings) over her ifetime, she sti woud receive a retirement benefit of $3 13 ($180 on the basis of her own earnings pus $133, or the difference between her worker s benefit and her spouse s benefit). Thus, her own work effort woud not increase her benefits in retirement. If she has average indexed earnings of $600, she woud be eigibe for a worker s benefit of $354; she woud not receive any spouse s benefit because her worker s benefit is bigger than $3 13. Therefore, she woud receive ony $42 a month more in retirement benefits than if she had never worked in paid empoyment. Tota benefits payabe to coupes where both spouses worked aso were compared to those payabe when ony one spouse had earnings. The resuts were unfavorabe to two-earner coupes. As shown in tabe 2, if the husband has a the earnings, his wife is eigibe for a wife s benefit equa to haf of his: Their combined retirement benefit wi be 150 percent of his fu retirement-age benefit. If the same tota amount of earnings is divided equay between a husband and wife, they wi receive ower tota retirement benefits. Thus, in the ex ampe beow, the two-earner coupe s retirement benefit is equa to ony 78 percent of the one-earner coupe s retirement benefit. Of course, the working wife wi have received vauabe additiona protection based on her own contributions that is not avaiabe to the spouse who has not worked in covered empoyment. The working wife wi have had protection for hersef and her chidren if she becomes disabed, protection for her survivors if she dies, and retirement benefits payabe to her whether or not her husband retires. However, these additiona protections against events that might we not occur were not seen as adequatey offsetting the certainty of a sma margina return-in terms of retirement benefits--on the taxes she had paid. Some argued that to represent a fair return on Socia Security taxes, additiona taxes shoud resut in additiona protection equa to at east the vaue of the worker s own additiona contribution. Retirement benefits do not meet that test of equity when comp ared to the amount payabe to spouses on the basis soey of their husband s earnings. And it is hard to quantify the vaue of protection against disabiity and against the possibiity of one s own death. Discussion of this issue began in the eary 1960 s. The Committee on Socia Insurance and Taxes of the 1963 President s Commission on the Status of Women was one of the first pubic panes to examine the treatment of the working wife under Socia Security. The committee ooked at payment of benefits to women not ony in absoute terms, but aso reative to noninsured wives and to other workers. The committee concuded, as others woud do ater, that in many ways working wives are treated fairy. The committee s report noted that working wives: Like other workers, on average, receive benefits on their own earnings that represent more than the equivaent of their own contributions. Tabe 1.--Effects of dupicate protection 1 Earner coupe Couoe A: Hisband..... Wife... Average -- earnings Worker $1, $0 Portion of benefit for wife as-- Coupe B: Husband,.,..._.._.._ wife., Coupe c: Husband \Vife...._..._.._... Source: Socia Security Administration cacuations Spouse $iii Tota payabe 1, G4 0 ii4 $ii; Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56, No. 3 Fa

5 Often do receive higher benefits on their own earnings th,an as wives. Are protected partiay from the effects of gaps in their own earnings histories by the fact that the benefit formua is weighted. (In the United States, the formua is structured to provide higher e amings repacement rates for ow e amers than for higher earners.) Have protections not avaiabe to noninsured wives, such as disabiity protection, survivor s protection for their chidren, rtnd retirement benefits that are independent of the husb and s work status. 7 The committee concuded, however, that the feeings of inequity had to be acknowedged and that some increase in benefits for working wives coud be justitied: Nevertheess, the feeing of the working wife that she shoud receive more in benefits than the nonworking wife has some merit. Not ony have both she and her husband contributed to the program, but the fact that she has had earnings aso means that the famiy unit suffers a greater oss in income on retirement than if ony the husband had worked. The committee recommended that the spouse s benefit for the working wife be offset against her benefit based on her own work record by $1 for $2 earned instead of $1 for $1. The wife s benefit, then, woud be reduced to zero ony when her own benefit equaed or exceeded her husband s. (Now the wife s benefit is reduced to zero when her worker s benefit equas haf the husband s fu retirement-age benefit.) The committee s pan at that time woud have cost 0.15 percent of taxabe payro if, as the committee recommended, it appied ony to wives and not to widows as we. The fu 1963 Commissicn on the Status of Women did not endorse this proposa. In the ate 1960 s, a new dimension was added when the issue was cast not ony in terms of working versus nonworking wives, but aso in terms of one-earner coupes versus twoearner coupes with the same combined earnings. Like the 1963 committee, the 1968 Task Force on Socia Insurance and Taxes of the Citizens Advisory Counci on the Status of Women cited concern about the need for working wives to receive more, based on their own Socia Security earnings, reative to nonworking wives. The task force went further, however, in charging that an inequity existed between coupes: [A]n anomaous situation is created whereby an aged coupe may get ess in tota monthy benefits if both the m<an and wife worked than a coupe getting benefits based on the same tota earnings where ony the husband worked.9 The task force thus recommended a proposa to equaize benefits paid to oneand two-earner coupes by eveing up -that is, by raising the eve of benefits paid to two-earner coupes. The specific concept endorsed by the task force was the use of coupes earnings as a base for computing coupes benefits, a concept incorporated into a bi introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1967 by Representative Martha Griffiths. The Griffiths bi in 1968 was estimated to cost O.S2 percent of taxabe payro. O The task force aso noted, however, that the ong-run soution may take a different approach and recommended consideration of a doube-decker phan: Reaizing the socia aspects of the system with respect to ower paid workers and workers with dependents, we recommend for the consideration of the next Advisory Counci on Socia Security a system that woud (1) provide for meeting their socia needs through a sociay adequate benefit financed out of genera revenues and (2) provide for suppementation of this basic benefit by contributory wage-reated benefits for those who worked in covered empoyment. The abor union member of the task force objected to the doube-decker approach, arguing that a benefit financed from genera revenues coud become subject to a means test. The union representative aso objected to the combinedearnings pan because raising benefits for workers who are married to each other coud generate new issues of fairness with regard to singe workers. The marriage bonus for workers who are married might aso be viewed as a singes penaty for those who are not married. Throughout the 1970 s, various groups continued to advocate raising benefits for working wives and equaizing benefits between one- and two-earner coupes with the same combined eamings. New voices aso joined the debate, however, casting these issues in sighty different ways. Tabe 2.--Benefits for one- and two-earner coupes with the same tota earnings Average Earner coupe earnings Worker Portion of benefit payabe as-- One-earner coupe: Husband,..,.._...._...,,,,,.,... $1,290 $626 Wife..,_,,.,.._..,._.._. _ Combined.,,,,,,,..,._.._.....,,,,,,... 1,290 Two-earner coupe: Husband..._ Wife Combined... 1,290 Source: Socia Security Administration cacuations. 60 Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56, No. 3 Fa 1993 Spouse $ Tota payabe $

6 Some w,anted to eiminate dependency by phasing out spouse s benefits. Eary proponents of this view were more concerned with improving the treatment of working wives reative to nonworking wives than with equaizing benefits between one- and two-earner coupes. structure shoud recognize the economic vaue of home work. From that view stemmed the beief that homemakers shoud be entited to disabiity benefits and that their survivors shoud receive benefits if they die. If homemakers become disabed, their famiies may incur high medica and perhaps other expenses. If homemakers Some favored equaizing benefits become disabed or die, their famiy may between one- and two-earner aso have expenses to repace their work coupes and were wiing to accept a as homemakers. The Socia Security reativey high cost to achieve that system now is structured to repace ony end. They argued for approaches wages ost when a paid worker retires, that eveed up by raising benefits becomes disabed, or dies. Because a for two-e,arner coupes. Some such homemaker s services are vauabe, it pans incuded raising benefits for was argued that the famiy shoud have singe workers, so as to avoid creat- Socia Security protection against the ing a singes issue. disabiity or death of the homemaker. Others aso favored equaizing ben- The view that marriage is an ecoefits between one- and two-earner nomic p,artnership and that the work of a coupes, but advocated eveing homemaker has economic vaue aso down benefits for one-earner coupes made it phiosophicay distastefu to as a way to achieve that end without many women to receive benefits that are increasing costs or generating new a function of their husband s benefits. issues of fairness between coupes Whie wives benefits were designed to and singe workers. ensure the adequacy of payments for retired coupes and widows, m,any argued One eement of agreement among that benefits shoud be paid to wives these disparate views was a beief that because of their own economic contribucoupes with the same combined past tion to the famiy, regardess of the earnings shoud have the same combined husband s entitement to benefits. retirement benefits. This principe was In 1976, the Nationa Commission not refected in the existing Socia Secuon the observance of Internationa rity benefit structure. The concept of Women s Year recommended that the earnings sharing seemed to provide a homemaker be covered in her own right way to incorporate the principe into the under Socia Security to provide income Socia Security system. Working from security to the risk of od-age, disabiity, the beief that the concept coud achieve and death. The commission further equity in benefits between one- and tworecommended that the Secretary of what earner coupes, severa groups deveoped was then caed the Department of detaied pans for incorporating earnings Heath, Education, and Wefare be sharing into the Socia Security systems. directed to give high priority to deveop- Recognition for Homemakers ing an Administration proposa achieving this purpose. I2 The second underying factor that The commission reported that its resuted in cas for changes in the Socia recommendation woud enhance the Security benefit structure was the in- status of homemakers and avoid the creasing perception of marriage as an notion of dependency. It favored homeeconomic parmership and of the wife s maker credits that woud provide (1) economic contribution to the marriage as disabiity protection for homemakers, (2) being vauabe whether she works inside higher benefits for women with careers or outside the home. This transated into divided between chidcare and paid M argument that the Socia Security work, and (3) higher benefits for a di- vorced woman that are independent of the former husband s status. The issue, however, was cast in terms of the guiding principe of independent recognition of homemakers work, rather than of the particuar resuts. It was impied that homemakers shoud receive at east the eve of benefits that the present system provides. It was thought, however, that those benefits shoud stem from independent credits. The new principe seemed to be to treat homemakers ike paid workers and eiminate dependents benefits. This principe of treating nonpaid work in the home the same as work for pay ent itsef to severa possibe ways to change Socia Security earnings computations. The change most consistent with a comprehensive reform proposa based on e arnings sharing was crediting onehaf of the tota market earnings of married coupes to each spouses earnings record. One-haf the credits woud beong to each spouse and each coud receive benefits based on his or her share of the coupe s earnings. In combination with the eimination of wives and widows benefits, this type of earnings crediting scheme woud acknowedge the economic vaue of nonm arket, as we as market, work. Other options incuded homemaker credits and chidcare drop-out years that woud aso have the effect of enhancing women s earnings records for time spent out of the paid work force. Homemaker credits woud invove adding earnings credits for years spent at home. The credits coud be vountariy purchased or simpy added to the records of a married women. Chidcare drop-out years woud mean subtracting from the averaging period some of the years of ow or zero earnings associated with years spent at home caring for chidren. Homemaker credits and chidcare drop-out years have been critized because they acknowedge the nonmarket contributions of some women but not others. Mothers who must work for pay aso have homemaker and chidcare responsibiities. Working mothers were not sympathetic to the idea of their Socia Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56, No. 3 Fa

7 Security taxes being used to increase benefits for those who stayed home fu time to care for chidren. Adequacy and Equity for Widows The first two issues discussed in this paper invoved new standards of fairness that particuar groups thought shoud be incorporated into the structure of the Socia Security system. The fist principe was that coupes with the same combined earnings shoud have the same combined retirement benefits. The second was that homemakers shoud be treated ike paid workers and benefits paid on the basis of spouseship shoud be eiminated. The third issue deas more with adequacy than equity but aso incorporates an equity consideration. In the 1960 s and 1970 s, the Socia Security system matured and benefits were increased in rea terms as we as to adjust for the fu effects of fairy high infation. Indeed, growth in benefit amounts and increased benefit receipt by oder persons resuted in significant decines in poverty rates among the aged as a group. Between 1959 and 1986, the overa poverty rate among a aged persons fe from 35 percent to 12 percent. Yet poverty remained stubborny high among aged women iving aone. By 1986, the poverty rate among aged famiies was 6 percent, whie among aged women iving aone it was sti 27 percent.13 The ong-standing probem of extremey ow incomes among widows and other aged women was attributed in part to ow eves of Socia Security benefits they received based on their deceased husbands earnings records and to their ack of other income sources. The report of the 1979 Advisory Counci on Socia Security noted that for 36 percent of a aged nonmarried women in 1976, Socia Security benefits accounted for 90 percent or more of income: for 74 percent, Socia Security represented more than haf of a income. Some 35 percent of a aged widows and widowers in I976 were iving in poverty even after incuding Socia Security benefits, compared to 9 percent of aged married coupes. 4 It was argued that severa features of the Socia Security benefit structure resuted in reativey ow benefits for widows. First, a retired worker and a dependent spouse are entited to retirement benefits at age 65 equa to 150 percent of the worker s fu retirementage benefit. In cases where a fu spouse benefit is payabe, when the worker dies, the benefit is reduced by a third; the spouse is entited to a benefit equa to the workers. It was argued that for many widows+and singe workers-this atnount is not adequate. Further, if a worker caims retirement benefits before age 65, those benefits are actuariay reduced, and the reduction is subsequenty passed aong to his survivor. Thus, the amount that the widow receives is ess than woud have been payabe had her deceased husband not caimed eary retirement benefits. It was argued that actuaria reductions thus contributed to poverty among widows. Third, it was argued that benefits for widows were ow because widows were more ikey to receive benefits based on outdated earnings. They may reach the age of eigibiity for widow s benefitsage 6tLmany years after their husbands died. Before a 1983 egisative change, their benefits were based on his outdated earnings. As a resut, a widow s benefit was reated to a prior standard of iving, rather th an the standard of iving at the time she came on the benefit ros. (Since 1983, widows benefits have been wageindexed to the point at which she becomes eigibe for benefits.) These concerns about the adequacy of widows benefits were ong-standing and continued despite a series of iberaizations in prior years that had resuted in an increase in rea terms in average aged widows benefits from $126 a month in 1950 to $3 11 a month in 1980 (in 1980 doars). I5 In the 1970 s, concerns about the adequacy of benefits for widows became grafted to concerns about equity of benefits for survivors of one- and two-earner coupes. As noted above, the benefit payabe to the survivor of a coupe where ony one spouse received benefits as a worker is reduced by one-third (from 150 to 100 percent of the worker s benefit) when the worker dies. However, if both spouses were receiving benefits ony as workers, the survivor continues to receive ony her own benefit if it is equa to or higher than her survivor s benefit. If ifetime earnings--and thus benefit amounts-were equa between the spouses, the survivor woud be eft ony haf the Socia Security income the coupe had been receiving. Further, as with retirement benefits of one-earner and two-earner coupes with the same tota income, benefits for survivors of one-earner coupes coud be higher than for the survivors of two-earner coupes with the same tota income. E arnings sharing seemed to offer a means to fix this inequity. No one wanted to make the distribution of benefits more fair to survivors of two-earner coupes by paying ess to survivors of one-earner coupes. Thus, instead of eveing down-as was generay proposed for retirement benefits-it was proposed to increase benefits for survivors of two-earner coupes by etting them inherit their spouse s earnings credits. Under an inheritance scheme a survivor woud receive benefits based on a his or her own credits pus a those of the deceased spouse from the years of marriage. It was assumed that this inheritance provision woud then improve the adequacy of benefits for widows, as we as improve the equity of benefit amounts for survivors of two-earner coupes. Adequacy and Equity for Divorced Women The fourth issue invoves (as did the third) both adequacy and fairness concerns, this time reating to divorced persons. The rising divorce rate focused attention on the probems of divorced women, not ony with regard to Socia Security, but aso with respect to other Federa programs and State aws regarding property rights. It was argued that women divorced in mid-ife or in od age often had ow incomes and few opportunities for improving their status. In the current system, a woman divorced after IO years of marriage is eigibe for the same benefits as a married woman. [Women divorced before 62 Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56, No. 3 Fa 1993

8 being married 10 years are not eigibe for Socia Security benefits based on the m,arita reationship.] This approach was criticized because divorced women s situations are different from those of wives. For divorced nonworking retired women, the spouse s benefit was not a suppement to a partner s benefit. It was the ony benefit. It was considered inadequate and the payment of a fu benefit to a divorced man and of a SO percent benefit to the ex-spouse who had kept his home was considered unfair. Yet to pay higher benefits to divorced women than to wives woud have created a so-caed divorce bonus or marriage penaty because divorced women woud be treated more favoraby than those who remained married. One proposed soution was to regard marriage as a partnership of equas. The Nationa Women s Conference, hed in Houston, Texas, in November 1977, adopted the foowing resoution: The Federa Government and State egisatures shoud base their aw reating to marita and property, inherit ance, and domestic reations on the principe that marriage is a partnership in which the contribution of each spouse is of equa importance and vaue. I6 The partnership concept thus provided a new principe for Socia Security reform proposas: At divorce, treat both parties aike by giving haf the coupe s combined earnings credits to each. Again, support for the principe was gained from both those who were concerned about the reative eve of benefits avaiabe to divorced women and their ex-spouses and those who wanted to raise the absoute eve of benefits avaiabe to divorced women. The 1979 Advisory Counci on Socia Security thus recommended consideration of earnings sharing for divorced coupes, and ony for divorced coupes. Others argued, however, that it woud not be fair to manied women to give divorced women rights not accorded to married women. In sum, then, a new set of principes was embraced, both by those who w anted Lo improve the absoute eve of benefits for m,any individua women, as we as by those who beieved that the Socia Security system shoud refect new principes about who shoud be treated aike between one- and two-earner coupes and between their survivors, between husbands and wives, between homemakers and workers, between divorced spouses, and between married and divorced persons. It was hoped that the adequacy concerns coud be achieved in the course of impementing the new principes and that the new principes coud co-exist with existing aspects of the Socia Security system for which there was, and continued to be, broad-based support. Sumtnary of Four Issues and New Poicy Principes As these four issues were deveoped and discussed, a disparate set of concerns about the Socia Security system found common expression in a new set of principes about who shoud be treated aike-specificay, that: Coupes with the same combined earnings shoud be treated aike. Survivors of coupes with the same combined earnings shoud be treated aike. Homemakers shoud be treated ike paid workers, and benefits based soey on dependency or the marita reationship shoud be eirninated. At divorce, both parties shoud be treated aike in order to refect the principe of marriage as a partnership of equas. Married peope shoud be treated ike divorced peope in order for the Socia Security system to remain neutra with regard to divorce. In addition to those concerned with equity, some who supported these new principes hoped that benefits coud be increased, in absoute terms, for widows, divorced women, working wives, and homemakers. These principes underay the deveopment of and provided the focus for initia anayses of the earnings sharing pan presented in a 1979 Department of Heath, Education, and Wefare (HEW) report, Socia Security und the Changing Roes of Men and Women.17 The desirabiity of the principes and the appropriateness of their incorporation into the Socia Security system were taken as given: the anaytic exercise for the next sevem years was to see how they coud be achieved. Whither Earnings Sharing in the 1980 s By the beginning of the 1980 s, the debate over treatment of women under the Socia Security progr am had advnnced to the point that earnings sharing had been aid out in detai and anayses of its costs and distributiona effects had been conducted. Whie some probems had been identified, there was confidence that modifications coud be made to reduce or eiminate them. Advocacy groups <and a number of Members of Congress endorsed earnings sharing or some other type of comprehensive reform. Severa fu-scae earnings sharing pans had been introduced in Congress and support for the concept was expressed in the 1980 Democratic Presidentia campaign patform. Given the optimism and enthusiasm of these discussions in the e ary 1980 s, one woud not be surprised if by 1988 some set of egisative changes had been enacted and impemented. The driving forces giving impetus to earnings sharing continue. Poverty among widows is sti high reative to other groups, divorce sti is common, paid work is increasingy more ikey among married women, and the responsibiities and rewards of marriage continue to be more equay shared between husband and wife. Thus, it woud seem ikey that Socia Security issues resuting from these forces woud sti beif not resoved-activey debated. In fact, no comprehensive egisation reated to the treatment of women under Socia Security has been enacted during the 1980 s and none is now being widey contempated. There is virtuay no discussion of whether Socia Security treats women fairy. Debate over poverty <among oder women is sharing attention in the pubic Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56, No. 3 Fa

9 arena with concern about heath care issues. To the extent that proposas are made to improve income, the proposas tend to be made with regard to the means-tested programs. The reasons for this ack of action provide some insights into the genera poicy-making process reating to Socia Security matters and into the feasibiity and desirabiity of earnings sharing as a method of resoving women s Socia Security concerns. Conficting Objectives Perhaps the fact that contributed most to staing a egisative soution to women s concerns was that in deveoping a detaied pan it became cear that there are some inherent conficts among the objectives that provided an impetus to earnings sharing. These conficts appear insouabe. The concept of earnings sharing is broad enough and fexibe enough in theory to respond to a the concerns expressed in the 1970 s. However, deveopment of specific pans forced tradeoffs between objectives. In some cases, interna conficts became apparent between improving the equity of the system and improving the adequacy of benefits for specia groups. In other cases conficts occurred between the new principes and attributes of the present system that sti have popuar support. Equity versus adequacy of benefits for coupes.-one of the primary conficts was between the newy defined fairness standard of treating aike coupes with the same combined eamings and the objective of maintaining adequacy of benefits for one-earner coupes. Budget constraints dictated that the approach be cost neutra. Thus, the most widey discussed earnings sharing pans dropped wives benefits, whie providing new benefits based on earnings shared between spouses. As a resut, benefits for one-earner coupes usuay woud be owered to the eve paid to two-earner coupes with the same combined e<arnings. Anayses based on microsimuation projects showed that one-third of a coupes woud receive at east 5 percent ess under earnings sh aring than they woud under present aw and that 15 percent woud receive at east 10 percent ess than under present aw. * Many anaysts and advocates, whie endorsing the concept of equa benefits for coupes with equa earnings, were not wiing to achieve this at the expense of reducing benefits for the traditiona famiy. The concern was not ony economic, it was poitica as we. Severa observers, incuding the 1979 Socia Security Advisory Counci, questioned whether the principes that earnings sharing incorporated did, in fact, represent a genuine consensus oi American society: The Counci beieves that it is importanr that the change refect the views not ony of those who are voca, but aso of the preponderance of those who woud be affected by the appication to Socia Security of a view of the marita partnership that breaks with tradition. In particuar, the Counci was concerned about mandating a transfer of benefits from husbands to wives and about providing benefits when no abor force earnings are ost. Broad support of such fundamenta ch,ange (in the Socia Security system) is essentia to its success, the report concuded. I9 Adequacy versus equity of benefits for widows.-a simiar confict arose between the new principe of fairness and the continuing concern about adequacy of benefits for aged widows and surviving divorced wives. Whie many other aspects of specific earnings sharing pans differed, virtuay a soved the probem of inequity of benefits between survivors of one- and two-earner coupes by eveing up via the mechanism that woud aow widows to inherit their husband s earnings from the years of marriage. It was assumed that this fix aso woud improve the adequacy of benefits for widows. However, some widows woud receive ower benefits than under present aw if existing survivors benefits were phased out. Present-aw widows benefits are based on the deceased spouse s earnings, averaged over his entire working ifetime. Under inheritance, the benefits paid to widows woud be based on average e amings of the widow over her working-age years, augmented (up to the maximum eve creditabe) by the earnings of the deceased spouse ony for those years in which the two were married. The microsimuation-based anaysis showed that the inherited credits woud not be an exact substitute for present survivors benefits. Indeed, whie inheritance moves in the direction of equaizing benefits between survivors of one- and two-earner coupes, whether a given widow gets more or ess depends argey on the ength and timing of her marriage and the date of her husband s death. And, instead of having the overa effect of increasing widows benefits, inherit- <ante coud ower benefits for many. One mode pan deveoped by the Socia Security Administration woud have resuted in ower benefits for 13 percent of widows, with a 26 percent average reduction in the benefit amount <among those whose benefits were reduced. 2o Thus, ironicay, it seemed that a nontrivia proportion of widows coud be made worse off by a pan intended to hep them. Shared earnings versus earning repacement.-the conficts discussed above arise primariy because of eimination of wives and widows benefits and the formuation of earnings sharing pans that eave aggregate Socia Security expenditures reativey unchanged. There are aso inherent conficts between earnings sharing and the individua e arnings repacement principe that is integra to present aw. The confict is not as obvious when the anaysis focuses on coupes in which both members are beneficiaries or in which both are not. The confict becomes cear, however, when we consider coupes in which ony one member is retired or disabed. Under present aw, the earnings repacement principe dictates that the benefit paid shoud be reated to the ost earnings of the disabed or retired worker. The principe of shared earnings, in contrast, dictates that the benefit be based on haf the coupe s prior earnings reg ardess of whether a, some fraction, or none of the coupe s earnings were ost by the one worker s disabiity or retirement. For exampe, the vaue of homemaking woud be recognized by providing a 64 Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56, No. 3 Fa 1993

10 benefit based on shared credits to her if she became disabed. To accompish this objective, benefits woud be owered for primary earners when they become disabed. This redistribution-smaer benefits when more earnings are ost and more benefits when smaer or no eamings are ost-woud be difficut to justify on the grounds of either earnings repacement or income adequacy. It is doubtfu that a pan incorporating such a feature coud survive the poitica process necessary for enactment. The resoution of these conficts in a way that is phiosophicay satisfactory, poiticay reaistic, and feasibe from a budget perspective has thus far euded the most ardent advocates of earnings sharing. A task force composed of representatives of a wide range of women s interests has worked since the eary 1980 s to deveop a pan around which they coud coaesce. Such a pan has not yet come forth. [Subsequent to preparation of this artice, a comprehensive enmings sharing pan deveoped by the task force, Technica Committee on Earnings Sh aring, was pubished: Earnings Sharing in Socia Security: A Mode of Reform. Center for Women Poicy Studies, Edith Fierst and N,ancy Deff Campbe (eds.) Washington, D.C., Other Death Knes In addition to the conficts discussed above, other factors occurring since the e,uy 1980 s have heped virtuay eiminate earnings sharing from the poitica agenda. As was discussed enrier in this section, one of the reasons that the movement stopped short of actua resoution of these issues is that earnings sharing pans considered to be poiticay reaistic were cost neutr~a. This inevitaby meant that if benefits for some were to be improved, significant numbers of other beneficiaries woud ose money. Pans with net costs were dismissed (or never deveoped) for severa reasons. First, Socia Security was facing major shortand ong-term financing probems that were resoved in eary 1983 ony after protracted and agonized negotiations. In ight of the painfuy achieved and deicatey baanced agreement to raise Socia Security taxes to fmance currenty promised benefits, it was cear that new proposas that woud require even more expenditures woud not be we received. Second, once Socia Security s own financing probems were soved, the surpus in its accounting system coud be used to offset deficits in the rest of the Government spending edger. Indeed, the pressure has been to further reduce Socia Security spending in order to increase the funds that might be borrowed for other government expenditures (for exampe, by deaying or not impementing cost-of-iving adjustments). Third, comparisons of the economic we-being of the aged to that of the nonaged indicated substantia improvement over the ast 15 years in the reative status of the aged as a group, This improvement, and a feeing expressed by some that the aged are receiving at east their fair share of Government expenditures, reduced any impetus for the expenditures that coud be required to protect current or future beneficiaries as a group from benefit decreases associated with e<amings sharing. Side effects.-an important part of the work undertaken by those who deveoped detaied proposas was exhaustive study of the unintended side effects of the new benefit structures. Poicy anaysis organizations inside and outside government used computer simuation modes to compare the distribution of benefits under aternative benefit formuae as compared with current aw. Given the extraordinary compexity of the benefit formuae and the arge number of demographic groups to be studied, detaied examination of winners and osers was possibe ony because of the simuation capacity deveoped in the 1970 s. Once having faced the fact that each new pan created osers as we as gainers,,anaysts and advocates attempted to find ways to protect the osers whie not increasing costs tremendousy or unduy distorting the new principes of fairness being incorporated into the system. Whie the abiity to anayze winners and osers permitted deveopment of ways to avoid unintended negative ef- fects, it aso forced various anaysts and advocates to spend remarkabe amounts of time creating and examining the effectiveness of numerous protections for very specific casses of women. One resut of this continua fine tuning was to dampen enthusiasm for this type of comprehensive reform. It was becoming a too compicated for genera comprehension, and the enormous inefficiency of using a universa socia insurance program to target on very specific pockets of need became obvious. The simuation resuts had the same effect as throwing water on a fire. Long transitions.-another factor that contributed to the staing of efforts for comprehensive reform was that the transitions to the new earnings sharing systems were extraordinariy ong, that is, severa decades. Long transition periods resuted first because it was not technicay feasibe to institute earnings sharing retrospectivey. The U.S. Socia Security Administration does not have the information on marriages and divorces to aow it to spit earnings for past years. Thus, earnings sharing coud be instituted ony forward from the point of enactment. Second, because even under those pans that eveed up there woud be osers (intentionay-that is, divorced men) it seemed necessary to have a engthy phase-in period. In the meantime, questions were raised about whether e,arnings sharing was designed to address concerns that woud no onger be pressing or reevant by the time the pan was fuy impemented. Certainy prospective earnings sharing coud do nothing to hep those now receiving benefits or even those approaching retirement age. Anaysis cast some doubt about whether the concerns that were the driving force behind earnings sharing woud continue to point to a need for the same kinds of reform in the future. For exampe, steadiy increas- ing abor-force participation utimatey wi mean that for many women benefits as workers wi outstrip benefits as spouses or widows, thus (1) removing a source of current irritation and (2) making it potentiay easier to drop wives and widows benefits even absent a comprehensive pkan ike earnings sharing. Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56, No. 3 Fa

11 Further, existing data showed that very few divorced women receive benefits based on their ex-husband s e arnings records. The vast majority have such strong e arnings records of their own that they do not quaify even for partia benefits as wives or widows. In addition, incrementa changes in widows benefits over the past two decades have increased their adequacy. As a group, widows now coming on the roes, unike widows of a generation ago, do receive benefits that are sufficient to bring their income above the poverty ine even if Socia Security is their soe resource.2 These and other resuts of the exhaustive anaysis of the eary 1980 s caed into question for which generation earnings sharing was designed. By 1984, enough questions had been raised about earnings sharing that its advocates were strugging hard to keep the concept remaining afoat in the poitica mainstream. In J<anuary of 198.5, the Socia Security Administration issued a Congressionay mandated report on the distributiona effects, costs and administrative issues that woud be encountered in impementing specific earnings sharing phans. 22 The report deat exhaustivey with the distribution of winners and osers and ways to safegmard the osers. If any singe document were to be cited as most heaviy infuencing (figurativey and iteray-the report was 63 1 pages ong and weighed about 4 pounds) the demise of earnings sharing, it woud be this Socia Security Administration report. Since it was issued, not a singe Congressiona he(a.ring has been hed to promote earnings sharing. In 1984, Presidentia c andidates ined up to endorse the concept: in 1988, the concept has not been mentioned. Concusions At this internationa conference of Socia Security researchers and poicy anaysts, it seems appropriate to draw some essons that may be appied to other major socia poicy questions. One esson is that research into the nature of underying socioeconomic trends can provide information about when and in what ways existing socia programs might ch(ange to respond to changed needs. In this case, rese arch into past and future changes in femae aborforce p articipation documented that traditiona roes of women no onger prevaied. A second esson is that poicy anaysts, equipped with research data and simuation modes, can specify and describe potentia winners and osers under v;uious poicy options. They can hep decisionmakers marrow their range of acceptabe options based on some knowedge of distributiona effects and poicy principes associated with each option. Third, comprehensive reform may inadvertenty threaten principes embodied in the present system, principes that the body poitic may not yet be ready to abandon. Perhaps the most important esson for researchers and poicy anaysts to earn from the way the United States ooked at the treatment of women under Socia Security over the ast 18 to 20 years is that comprehensive reforms of major socia programs usuay cost more than poicymakers are wiing to pay. Once a socia program exists, p art of the assessment of the desirabiity of change is how many peope woud receive ess under the new provisions than under current aw and how expensive it woud be to prevent this from happening. In the budget and poitica environment of the 1980 s, the amount of money required to be sure that particuar groups of beneficiaries were not disadvantaged made comprehensive reform through earnings sharing unappeaing. In the United States, comprehensive wefare reform has severa times faen victim to the seemingy intractabe probem of an unwiingness to spend sums associated with protecting the benefits of current recipients. In this budget <and poitica cimate, and perhaps in most cimates, incrementa or sma changes may be the ony way to make changes in major existing socia programs. Notes James P. Smith and Michae P. Ward, Women s Wuges and Work in the Twentieth Century (Santa Monica, Ca.: Rand Corp., 1984) p.4. 2/bici. Ibid., pp. 4 and 6. 41biri., p. 5. Ibid., p. 8. Ibid., p. 10. President s Commission on the Status of Women, Report ofthe Task Force on Socia Insurunce und Taxes (Washington, D.C., 1963), pp. 36 and 37. ibid., p. 37. Citizens Advisory Counci on the Status of Women, Report ofthe Tusk Force on Socia Insurance and Tuxes (Washington, D.C., 1968), p. 72. ibid., p, 76. Ibid., p, 73. U.S. Department of State, Nationa Commission on the observance of Internationa Women s Year, To Form u More Petjd Union (Washington, D.C., 1977), p. 18. I3 U S Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Stutisticu Abstract of the U.S., 1980 rmd 1988 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1980 and 1987) 1959 data, 1980 Abstract, Tabe 776; 1986 data, 1988 Abstract. Tabe 716. Socia Security 1979 Advisory Counci, Socia Security Fincmcing and Benefits: Report of the 1979 Advisory Counci (Washington, D.C., 19X2), p Unpubished SSA data. I6 U.S. Department of State, Nationa Women s Conference, Proposed Nationa Pan ofaction (Washington, D.C., 1977), p. 18. U.S. Department of Heath, Education, and Wefare, Sorid Security und the Chunging Roes of Men trnd Women (Washington, D.C., 1979). Report of the 1979 Advisory Counci, p Report of the I979 Advisory Counci, pp. 102 and Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56, No. 3 Fa 1993

12 YJ S Department of Heath and Human Services, Report on Earnings Sharing Impementation.Study (Washington, D.C., 1985) p. 53. Z he poverty ine for an aged individua amounted to $348 per month in The average monthy benefit of widows newy awarded benefits in 1986 was $472. U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services, Socia Security Administration, Socia Security Buetin; Annua Statistica Suppement, 1987(Washington, D.C., 1987) Tabe Report on Earnings Sharing. Bibiography Reno, Virginia P. and Meinda M. Upp Socia Security and the Famiy. In Taxing the Famiy, pp Edited by Rudoph G. Penner. Washington, DC.: American Enterprise Institute for Pubic Poicy Research. Smith, James P. and Michae P. Ward Womens Wages and Work in the Twentieth Century. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation. Socia Security 1979 Advisory Counci Socia Security Financing and Benefits; Report of the 1979 Advisory Counci. Washington, DC. (December). U.S. Department of Heath, Education, and Wefare Socia Security and the Changing Roes of Men and Women. Washington, D.C. (February). U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services, Socia Security Administration Deveopment of the Advisory Counci s Interim Recommendations on the Treatment of Women. Unpubished document. Washington, D.C. (September). U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services Report on Earnings Sharing Impementation Study. Washington, D.C. (January). Socia Security Buetin Vo. 56, No. 3 Fa

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