Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano Jr., saying that the Social Security program discriminates against women, yesterday sent Congress a report outlining ways to revise it.
One solution would allocate a couple's annual earnings equally between the spouses, allowing a woman who worked in the home raising the couple's children to acquire an earnings record of her own.
The second solution would create a two-tier system that would provide basic monthly benefits of $122 to everyone over 65, and an additional sum based on earnings.
Califano stressed that the two proposals are only models and that he isn't recommending adoption of either at this point. He said he was simply following Congress' mandate to outline the most plausible ways of ending alleged discriminatory features.
The alleged discriminatory aspects of current law, he said, arose from the fact that even working women usually take off to have children, thereby reducing their credited years and credited earnings, making for lower benefits and ineligibility in some eases, and because the law doesn't view housework and homemaking as a real occupation.
As a result, women often get much lower benefits, are ineligible for disability benefits, which require work in 20 of the 40 quarters preceding disability, and will get only 50 percent of the worker's benefit if divorced, often not enough to live on.
The two systems outlined by Califano wouldn't settle all these problems, but they would resolve some.
The first proposal would work this way: if the husband earned $12,000 and the wife did not work, each would get credit for $6,000 for that year. If one earned $8,000 and the other $4,000 each would be credited with $6,000.
Under this alternative, the automatic "free" extra-50-percent wife's benefit, payable at present to the aged wife of any retired worker, would be abolished. Women wouldn't need it because they'd have an earnings record of their own, entitling them to benefits even if they never worked.
Under the earnings-splitting plan, as outlined in the report, a woman who did not work could earn retirement and survivor benefits by getting credited with half her husband's earnings, but she couldn't earn disability benefits that way. She could earn disability insurance only as under current law -- by working at a paid job outside the home for the requisite ellgibility period.
Under the second proposal, every U.S. resident would receive at age 65 (or 62 on a reduced basis) an automatic pension of $122 a month. In addition, the pensioner who had worked before retirement would receive a payment equal to about 30 percent of average earnings in Social Securitytaxed employment. Disabled persons would be eligible for benefits on a similar basis.
The "free" wife's benefit would be eliminated, but a nonworking widow would inherit part of her husband's pension and end up with roughly what she would receive under the existing program.
Either new system would iron out one major inconsistency in the current system. At present, a family with a single wage-earner and a dependent wife gets a higher retired couple's benefit (because of the "free" wife's benefit) than a family where both the husband and wife worked and earned the same combined salary as the single-wage-earner family.
In order to improve benefits for most women under either the two-tier or earnings-split system without increasing Social Security costs, some benefits for others would have to be lowered.