For Women, Income Inequality Continues Into Retirement

Lydia Smith stands in the kitchen of her home in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. She has lived in this apartment for 46 years, and now that she is on a fixed income, she pays rent with the aid of Section 8 tenant-based assistance. Photo: Megan Miller for NPR

[Via:] Poverty does not treat men and women equally, especially in old age. Women 65 years old and older who are living in poverty outnumber men in those circumstances by more than 2 to 1. And these women are likely to face the greatest deprivation as they become older and more frail.

This pretty much describes the situation of 87-year-old Lydia Smith.

In her small, tidy apartment near downtown Los Angeles, she’s surrounded by dozens of family photographs. She picks out one and points to her twin sister, her mother and her brother. “Unfortunately, he’s gone,” she says. “She’s gone,” she says, pointing to her sister. And “Mama’s gone,” she says.

Smith, a war bride, came to the United States from Rome with her family after World War II. But she got divorced in the 1950s and never remarried. Once her son and daughter were grown, she moved to this second-story walk-up.

“I’ve been here 46 years in this apartment,” she says. “I have no intention of moving, either.”

How could she disrupt all of her neatly arranged collections? There’s a basket of baby dolls, a Barbie-filled breakfront and a bunch of Hello Kitty knickknacks. All are the result of a discerning eye and the local Goodwill store, pretty much the only place she’s bought anything in years.

She gets just over $900 a month from Social Security, and that’s it. Her apartment is subsidized through a program called Section 8. She pays about a third of her income in rent; the government picks up the rest. Smith doesn’t get food stamps, but she does qualify for Medicaid. That’s a good thing, since she’s being treated for a heart condition and severe arthritis.

“When you’re in constant pain, you have no desire to be active,” Smith says. “So this is why I stay home a lot. I don’t go places.”

Smith never saved for retirement. It didn’t occur to her. And with the kind of money she made working as a clerk in a department store and a cashier at a restaurant, there wasn’t much left over anyway.

This is the story of most of the 2.6 million women ages 65 and over who are living at or below the poverty line, says Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center.


Published by waworkfam

The Washington Work and Family Coalition includes representatives of seniors, women, labor, health professionals, children’s advocates, faith communities, low income workers, employers, non-profits and other organizations. We’re working together to make it easier for parents to raise healthy children and care for aging parents; for workers to care for themselves or their partners in the event of a serious illness; and for businesses to offer modern workplace standards that improve productivity and worker health.

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