The Best Mother's Day Gift We Can Give: A More Secure Social Security

When my mother was born in 1908, women didn't have the right to vote--that right wasn't won until 1920. My mother was fairly ambitious for someone of her era. Certified to teach music and working as a seamstress--it was her income that enabled Mom and Dad to put a down payment on their first house.

The trailblazer attitude of my mother and others of her generation--along with combined efforts of the women's movements and historic opportunities--helped women make significant economic strides and obtain numerous positions of power. Currently, 22 of the Fortune 500 companies are headed by women--a big jump from only five in 2001. Economically speaking however, we still have a long way to go if we want a shot at a dignified retirement.

Women are twice as likely as men to retire into poverty because of gender inequality in pay and retirement plan coverage. On average, women earn 77 cents to every dollar men earn and for women of color it's even worse. African American women earn 62 cents and Hispanic women earn 54 cents to every dollar earned by their male counterparts.

Most women also face pension poverty. On average, divorced, widowed and never-married women 65 and older rely on Social Security for half their income; compared to 36 percent for elderly single men and 31 percent for couples. Without Social Security, the poverty rate among older women would jump from 11 percent to 48 percent--almost one out of two.

However, Social Security's benefits are extremely modest: on average, women receive only about $13,100 per year. Given this puniness, it's preposterous that some on Capitol Hill would make benefits even worse. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has called for a 16.5 percent across-the-board cut.

To make matters worse, Social Security benefits not only don't replace most of American's paychecks in retirement but longer life spans mean there will be even more strains on seniors surviving on these benefits alone.

In 1940, when Social Security began paying benefits, the typical life expectancy for workers who made it to 65 was 13 more years for men and nearly 15 for women, according to the American Academy of Actuaries. Seventy years later, it's more than 18 years for men and more than 20 years for women.

As Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, has observed, benefits should be increased, not cut: women should receive credit for time spent out of the workforce caring for children and the cost-of-living adjustment should be improved. I agree.

Bottom line: If the men in Congress love their mothers, then strengthening Social Security should be high on their to-do list, especially this time of year.