Because I’ve been writing about retirement issues for CBS MoneyWatch recently, a program caught my eye: “Reporting Retirement: Finding New Angles,” hosted by the National Press Foundation in June. With support from my editor at CBS, I decided to apply, and was thrilled last week to learn I’ve been awarded a fellowship to the program.
For me, what’s interesting about retirement reporting is how rising income inequality will impact the futures of today’s working Americans, as well as how social and gender-based inequalities will also create different outcomes for groups of workers. Women, for instance, suffer from a well-documented gender pay gap, which means that women are more likely to enter retirement in poverty than men. Given that women generally live longer than men, this also means more years subsisting in (sometimes) dire poverty.
While this is definitely an issue for older women who didn’t have careers or income of their own, younger women today are also impacted by many of these same issues. Women are more likely than men to take time off to care for family members, crimping not only income but retirement savings. In my own case, I took some time off from work when our family moved to Burlington, Vermont and my husband started in a tenure track job, a stressful time when we lacked family and friends to help out (we moved to a city where we didn’t know anyone). Recently, my Social Security statement arrived, and it was a bit of a shock to see the sudden dip in income for the time when I cut back on work to get ourselves settled.
Now, with several years of freelancing behind me, I’ve built up my income, but without an employer-sponsored 401(k), I’m responsible for setting aside money into an IRA, which I’m conscientious about doing, yet it’s far from the amount I’d be socking away if I had an employer match. By some counts, about one-third of Americans are now part of the “freelance economy,” which raises questions about whether our retirement system is out of date with the reality of how millions of people work.