Why I’m Thinking About Retiring at 19… – Lomabeat.com
“Over your lifetime, you will lose $1,200,000 in salary as a female college graduate compared to your male college graduate peers.”
As I sat in my 8:30 a.m. class trying to process my teacher’s lecture, I was awakened by a visceral reaction that became evident on my face as my smile crumbled and my posture was slowly collapsing. “Can this really be true? I looked around, and even the face masks couldn’t hide my classmates’ reactions. A kind of stunned laughter echoed in their throats.
My teacher looked around the classroom and said, “You all look depressed.
In some ways it was true. I was sad; I had been disillusioned. But as the days passed after that class, the initial pit in my stomach was just the base of an emotional rollercoaster that gradually got bigger. It’s like that movie, “Inside Out.” Instead of a singular emotion (joy, or sadness, anger, etc.) holding the joystick of my thoughts and actions, it was a weird mix that eventually led to a new emotion that I can’t quite place . Frustration? Horrified curiosity? The best way I can describe it is that this emotion has taken me on a rollercoaster ride down a dark tunnel of endless, twisting questions, making me feel uneasy because I can’t answer them or provide an outlet for relief.
“Can this really be true?” I was thinking.
It was a cruel awakening. I have lived my life with optimism about how far we have come and how the gender wage gap has improved since the 1950s. However, beneath the narrowing gender wage gap lies a cavern subterranean injustice waiting to be confronted with women who slip through the cracks. Or, like me, take a class and find out the truth.
The day I sat in my class, dumbfounded, we discussed the pay gap and the systemic injustices seen in current government agencies that impact women. Some of you may feel awkward and want to stop reading because “This rabid feminist is about to go off and rant for the next 10 paragraphs.” But, I urge you not to leave too quickly.
If you know a woman, identify as one, date one, or just interact with one (I’ll answer this for you…you know), gender oppression is a fundamental thing that you need to recognize and learn (not only as a good human being, but as a good friend, brother or significant other). Here is the research my professor shared in class on gender oppression:
According to economist Evelyn Murphy in an article in the National Equal Pay Commissionover a lifetime (47 years of full-time work), the gender pay gap equates to a significant wage loss for women, especially women who have completed high school and beyond:
- $700,000 for a high school graduate
- $1,200,000 for a college graduate
- $2,000,000 for a vocational school graduate.
I remember thinking in class, “Are you telling me that by working to pay off college loans, I’m simultaneously going to lose $1,200,000 over the next 40 years? Well, shoot… how can that be possible? Researchers like Paula England, a sociology professor at New York University, have found the source of this discrepancy.
According to England research, systemic discrimination seen through the wage gap is based on two factors: devaluation and the queue. These terms highlight why the pay gap has not reached equality: as women enter a sector and it becomes female-dominated, wages fall. Women’s work is devalued and employers’ preference for men creates a gendered labor queue.
the New York Times reported: “When women became designers in large numbers (salaries fell 34 percentage points), cleaners (salaries fell 21 percentage points) and biologists (salaries fell 18 percentage points percentage) “.
Meanwhile, as other industries became male-dominated, research revealed an opposite phenomenon.
The same article reported: “Computer programming, for example, was once a relatively menial role played by women. But when male programmers began to outnumber female programmers, the job began to pay more and gain prestige.
Society likes to tell women to reach for the stars, to break the glass ceiling, to defy expectations, but what’s the point if I know that on the other side of the glass ceiling are iron bars that impede systematically my financial freedom?
This atmosphere of oppression or “aviaryin the words of feminist theorist Marilynn Frye, manifests itself in perennial ways often in systems we least expect, such as Social Security. Yeah, yeah, I know I won’t get a social security check until I’m 50, but the reality is that my social security calculations start as soon as I get my first job after college. Here is a brief summary of what I learned about Social Security in my class:
To qualify for basic retirement benefits, you generally need 10 years (40 quarters) of paid employment. And, you need to earn at least $1,300 per quarter for it to count as a credit.
All very well, except that due to the pay gap, my benefits will not be as high as those of my male counterparts. My main issue, however, is how it records our years of work.
The social security system benefits people who earn more. As the AARP Social Security Resource Center said, “The more money you earn during your working years, the higher your benefits will be.”
In addition to your base requirement of 40 quarters, the Social Security calculation emphasizes the money you earned in your 35 highest-paid years. This means that if you worked 40 years, Social Security will calculate your 35 highest paid years and ignore the other five. But, if you only worked 25 years, social security would consider those 25 years and count an additional 10 years as zeros.
The final calculation of your benefit is an average, so the more zeros you have in your equation, the lower your benefit.
This is the source of the problem.
A large majority of women, during their married years, leave the workforce at some point to become stay-at-home moms. Stay-at-home mom = zeros in your social security.
COVID-19 is a new contributing factor to the number of women leaving work to take on household chores
According to research carried out by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in 2020, despite most fathers returning to the workforce towards the end of 2020, mothers remained 2.8 percentage points below their November 2019 labor force participation rate.
To put this loss in perspective, this same research noted that the decade-long decline in labor force participation among 25- to 54-year-olds after the Great Recession was a smaller percentage, at 2.5 percentage points (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis).
All of this information is particularly alarming given the “spring ringing” attitudes found in our student body. Getting married right after graduation is a wonderful thing to do if you’ve found your person. All the power to you!
However, as young adults begin married life and some contemplate being a stay-at-home parent at 23 (which is indeed a full-time job), one must consider its impact on our financial future. It should be noted that retirement benefits are calculated on the basis of 35 years of work. Note that this is an average, and being a stay-at-home parent significantly reduces our benefit.
Swirling thoughts about Social Security, the wage gap, my own experiences being held in a birdcage left me with a new awareness. My “Inside Out” moment shouldn’t have been a shock. Beyond the tinted windows that we break and on the other side of the expectations that we exceed, injustices are present. If we’re willing to zoom out, see the big picture, ask the hard questions, then we shouldn’t be surprised when the topics of discrimination and sexism seep into our classroom discussions.
I hope you take this crash course of 55 minute lesson time as a welcome to the college course GE, Race, Class and Gender Policy. It changed the way I see my future enormously. To answer my teacher’s question earlier in this article, yes, I am depressed.
However, I am not writing about all these things I have learned to sound doomsday alarms or ignore the progress that has been made for gender equality. On the contrary, I write them because I am a young adult who still has two years of college before entering a competitive career and I am scared. Maybe you are too?
I write because the truth is that my fears are not unfounded. Clearly, even social scientists and economists have picked up on these trends.
I have to admit, I don’t really have many words of encouragement for you. My only encouragement is that, as students, we have courses and books that radically change the way we see the world. I hope you also have your “Inside Out” moment and start asking tough questions or even simple questions like,
Can this really be true?
This is the first step in breaking down the cage, removing the atmosphere of oppression, and affirming to mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends, and friends that we are valued in this society.
Written by: Lainie Alfaro