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SheSource Luncheon: “The message is ‘work longer’”

July 31, 2010

You know the oft-cited statistic that women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man? Heidi Hartmann, President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and SheSource expert, claims that’s actually the rosy view of the picture. Over a lifetime of inconsistent employment and inadequate pay, the average woman’s earnings add up to 38 percent of a man’s lifetime income. Yet only a third of the American women surveyed for Prudential’s 2010 Biennial Women’s Study on Financial Experiences and Behaviors Among Women have a detailed plan for their financial futures, with many putting off saving for retirement until after their kids go to college. Tuesday’s press release for the Prudential study, followed by a SheSource luncheon hosted by the Women’s Media Center and The Paley Center, focused on women’s financial difficulties and decisions. Keynote speaker Trish Regan, an Emmy-nominated broadcast journalist and anchor of CNBC’s The Call, argued that women’s perspectives have often been ignored in the financial sector, to alarming effect. Speaking from experience as a former Goldman Sachs employee and current financial reporter, Regan blamed a mix of social narratives about women (“waiting for Prince Charming”) and a male-dominated finance world for women’s lackluster saving habits. Regan, who was pregnant with twins during the first outbreak of swine-flu panic, recalled her desperate search for the vaccine last year. Her tour of Manhattan doctors’ offices was fruitless, until she wandered into the New York Stock Exchange, where she was told to just go up to the eighth floor – the bankers and traders had plenty! Regan broke the story that Wall Street had the nation’s vaccines, while at-risk children and pregnant women went without. As a pregnant woman standing in the NYSE, she uncovered an issue that few other financial reporters, stock traders, or pregnant women could have, which suggests a larger problem with the American finance world and women. While some media outlets worry about the “man-cession,” as WMC President Jehmu Greene mentioned in Tuesday’s opening remarks, women face a unique challenge in saving for retirement. At a panel moderated by “Money Coach” Lynette Khalfani-Cox, Heidi Hartmann summed up the Prudential study with one depressing conclusion: “For women, who live longer than men, the message is ‘work longer.’” Indeed, as Prudential’s Senior Vice President for Business Development Joan Cleveland pointed out, 56 percent of the women surveyed plan to work longer. Another 25 percent are concerned that they might not retire on time. Khalfani-Cox was troubled by a proposal to raise the retirement age to 70, warning that between aging and the tight job market, many women physically can’t work that long. Hartmann argued that, with financial reform, women should be able to save enough for retirement. Women lack either the confidence or ability to manage their finances because firms make their financial products intentionally incomprehensible, a problem that can only be solved by regulation. Tuesday’s panel, speeches, and SheSource discussion provided a lively reflection on the state of American women’s finances. Still, as SheSource expert and Feministing editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay pointed out during the panel’s Q&A, it offered a limited view. Prudential only surveyed women earning over $50,000 a year, suggesting that, dispiriting as some of the findings were, the situation is far worse for those below the cutoff.