READOUT: US Department of Labor report finds stark gender, age-based pay inequities for older women, whose share of the labor force has increased
WASHINGTON – As the nation marks Older Americans Month, the U.S. Department of Labor welcomed U.S. Representatives Debbie Dingell, Lois Frankel, Gwen Moore and Jan Schakowsky for a roundtable discussion on older women in today’s workforce and the findings of two reports by the department’s Women’s Bureau on the unique challenges they face.
Moderated by the bureau’s Director Wendy Chun-Hoon, the panel shared findings in the reports, “The Rise of Older Women Workers” and “Living on Less: Persistent Gender Disparities in Income Levels, Sources for Older Adults.”
The bureau’s Acting Deputy Director Tiffany Boiman; Justice in Aging’s Directing Attorney for Economic Security Tracey Gronniger; Christina Bradshaw-Smith, a member of the American Federation of Teachers; and Antonia Surco, a member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance also participated in the roundtable.
The “Rise of Older Women Workers” reports that while women aged 55 and older make up 10.8 percent of the U.S. labor force – nearly double their 5.8 percent share of the workforce in 1980 – their incomes continue to be lower and they are more likely to live in poverty than men of the same age.
“The inequalities that women experience throughout their working lives – things like unequal pay, the lack of affordable childcare, or gender and racial discrimination and harassment – accumulate and grow over time,” explained Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon. “While some workers may choose to keep working, too many older women simply cannot afford to retire due to a lifetime of low wages, family caregiving responsibilities and systemic inequalities.”
The reports show that, on average, older women’s personal incomes are only 63 percent of men’s, for those aged 65 and older. Long-term solutions require addressing a lifetime of gender-based inequities: eliminating pay disparities, increasing access to worker protections, creating pathways to better paying careers and improving job quality where women are the most likely to work today.
“Older women workers are an important and growing part of our workforce, yet they consistently earn less due to an intersection of multiple factors, including ageism and sexism. The Democratic Women’s Caucus looks forward to working with the Biden administration and other partners to address the disparities and challenges older women face so they can age independently and with financial stability,” said Rep. Lois Frankel.
“These reports make it plainly clear that we must do more to support older women in the workforce and make equity-centered policy interventions to tackle gender disparities. I am so pleased to convene at this roundtable to highlight important insights from these reports,” said Rep. Gwen Moore.
“Older women are an important and growing segment of the U.S. labor force, but they have lower incomes and are more likely to live in poverty than older men. All seniors deserve to age and live independently and with dignity. As a co-chair of the Task Force on Aging and Families, and someone who spends a lot of time working on how we improve quality of life and resources for aging Americans, this issue hits home for me. We must continue to work to understand and address the discrepancies and challenges faced by older women in the workforce,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky.
Bradshaw-Smith, a high school physical education teacher with more than 30 years in the classroom, shared her experiences, as did Surco, an older domestic worker. Throughout the discussion, participants emphasized the need for stronger worker protections and policies to support working women today to avoid hardship for women as they age in the workforce and into retirement.