American women would be particularly hard hit by the Reagan administration's proposals to reduce future Social Security benefits by $80 billion, several witnesses testified yesterday at a House hearing.
"The president's proposals indicate a lack of compassion for older people, and especially older women," Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), leader of the Congresswomen's Caucus, told a task force of the House Select Committee on Aging.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, added: "Women workers who suffer the job discrimination, low wages and poor health will bear the brunt of this savings proposal. The net effect of the Social Security cuts is to create massive holes in the safety net for the aged poor women in this country."
The administration's proposals, which would affect only persons retiring or collecting disability benefits after 1982, would increase penalties for early retirement, eliminate minimum benefits, make it harder to receive disability payments and phase out benefits to students whose parents have retired or are deceased.
Robert Myers, deputy commissioner of Social Security, said that the administration believes the proposed cuts would be distributed fairly between men and women.
"Some assert that the package has a greater impact on women," Myers said, noting critics' arguments that, because women generally have lower wages and more breaks in service than men, they tend to receive lower benefits.
"I believe that discrimination in the work place and cultural differences between lifestyles of men and women are not problems which Social Security can or should solve," Myers added.
But Robert Ball, who headed the Social Security Administration from 1962 to '73, cited three areas in which the cuts would affect women more than men: elimination of minimum benefits, stricter requirements for disability benefits, and elimination of benefits for survivors and dependents between the ages of 18 and 22 who are attending school.