Why is My Benefit Less than My Spouse’s?

February 26, 2020

One more reader question from the New York Times:

I am 68, and my Social Security benefit amount is lower than my husband’s because I stayed out of the work force for five years to raise my children — even though he worked fewer years and earned less over all than I did. Has there been any progress in raising benefit amounts for people in my situation?

The responsibility of caring for children, elderly parents or other relatives remains a key reason that women tend to work fewer years than men. That reduces their income from Social Security, pensions and savings.

Caregiver credits are applied by the retirement programs of many industrialized nations, including Britain, Sweden and Germany. In the United States, lawmakers and policy experts have proposed a variety of remedies. One would allow caregivers to exclude more years from the P.I.A. formula; allowing caregivers to exclude five years would increase their benefits. Other plans would provide wage credits to caregivers.

“It would be an imputed income amount for the years when you were providing caregiving,” says Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, an advocacy group, and a member of the Social Security Advisory Board, an independent bipartisan government agency. “This definitely is an issue that has come to the attention of policymakers, and doing something about it has broad support. The question is when we will see some action on it.”

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