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Women and Aging: Unprepared and Unaware

A Retirement LifestyleAre you in denial about how long you are likely to live? And what that means for you right now? And what it means for business and our society?

I recently attended a Volunteers of America (VOA) panel on the release of their study Boomer Bust 2011: Still Unprepared and Unaware that focused on women. VOA is one of the largest providers of aging care in the US.

Maybe this doesn’t seem interesting or important to you now. When you think aging issues, you think of awful commercials. Your business needs your attention and life is busy.

But consider:

  • If you are 65 today and female: you have another 27-30 years expected life;
  • If you are a married woman and both of you live to 65, you have a 90%+ chance that at least one of you will live into your mid-90s;
  • 27% of boomers have under $1000 in retirement savings and another quarter have less than $25,000 in all assets (excluding a house or defined benefit plan);
  • The average woman has 13 years of zero earnings under Social Security;
  • Women still earn less than men on average; and
  • Women provide the majority of care-giving.

Doing the math

In 2000, I sat down with a financial advisor and reviewed my retirement savings and came away feeling quite good. I was on target for a good retirement – not the million-dollar-plus kind so many calculators say one needs, but a nice pot.

But then the market tanked. And an entire decade of stagnation occurred as well as another market melt-down. And now I feel lucky to have an account that is finally the same size it was nearly 11 years ago. So I do not under-estimate that, for many of us, retirement savings are discouraging to think about.

But last year, Fidelity released a study that indicated older Americans needed to have about $250,000 just to pay their medical costs in retirement. Part of that is for routine costs not covered by Medicare, and part for long-term care.

Did you know that most people have no idea that long-term care is not covered by Medicare? And yet, on average, you can expect to need nearly three years of such assistance as a woman.

This is part of the reason so many women are providing care for elders as well as their children, often at the same time. The majority of caregivers for older people are women. And caregivers report on average that they are spending 21 hours per week physically providing care.

Over half of caregivers have had to give up vacations and social activities to do this. Over 40% have missed work and most of these have had to take unpaid time off. And about 40% have had to use their own savings to provide such care.

Don’t give up!

There are some actions you can take to create a better future for yourself and others.

What to do NOW:

1. Take care of your own health. Women suffer from more chronic diseases, often because they are not caring for their own health while caring for children and others. Additionally, over a third of retirees are forced to retire earlier than they planned due to health problems.

2. Learn about finances and do some financial planning. Resources include Building Wealth: A Beginners Guide and the American Institute of CPA’s financial literacy for all life stages website.

Currently, the Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that retirees draw their income from four sources. On average retirees get 40% of their income from Social Security, 26% from continuing work, 20% from pensions or annuities, and 13% from other financial assets. What will your options be?

3. Consider your family issues. What legal aspects do you need to address with parents or others you may care for? With yourself and your partner?

4. Consider your business issues. What impact does the need for retirement savings have; do you offer and participate in such plans?

Simple IRAs are easy for even small businesses to set up and offer. Solopreneurs can have IRAs, SEPs, and other plans too.

Can you offer any work place or time flexibility? That appeals to many people but is also vital for caregivers.

Longer-term issues

1. Most Americans want to age at home. Yet very few are prepared to do so. Home renovations should look forward to aging in place. When moving, consideration of the services and public transportation available becomes critical. I do think this has been a big driver in the rapid increase in older people buying units in my condo building – no maintenance, easy access if one has mobility issues, great hospitals in the area, and right on a bus route – in a city with some services for seniors.

2. Public policy issues include lack of retirement savings of many Americans, costs of health care, Medicare, community preparedness and services for older people and care-givers. All of these have costs. And yet do we really want to go back to a time when so many elders were living in poverty?

Many of the items critical in communities for seniors – sidewalks, good public transportation, local stores and services – appeal to all ages. Educate yourself, pick the ones that matter to you, and voice your opinion to your elected representatives.

Shock, yet not a surprise

While none of this information came as a surprise since I have studied retirement issues for a long time, the panel discussion was excellent. Even Ariana Huffington spoke cheerfully about some of the advantages of aging. All told stories of their own care-giving adventures, some of which reminded me of my own. I was lucky that my mother and aunts all had communicated their medical wishes and we had the legal documents we needed.

But the time demands and the difficulties of finding and accessing needed services was a shock to me. I thought I was smarter than that about these issues!

And that too was a theme of the panel; that each had worked in the aging field and yet dealing with the inadequate, badly organized, and poorly communicated systems as a caregiver needed far more time and energy and work than they expected.

So don’t let yourself be caught off-guard.

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Image: voteprime via Flickr, Creative Commons

Patricia A. Frame is an experienced Human Capital issues speaker and management consultant. She founded Strategies for Human Resources to advise organizations facing organization and people challenges. Previously she designed and managed human resource functions for GE, Software AG, Maxwell Online, and others. A Wharton MBA and an Air Force veteran, she actively supports the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Check out her website, SHRinsight.com, for management and development articles.


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