Elderly women are one of the poorest groups in the nation, often living alone without private pensions to supplement meager Social Security benefits, the Older Women's League said yesterday in a Mother's Day report on the status of women over 64.
"Our nation's mothers need more than hearts and flowers," said executive director Victoria Jaycox at a Capitol Hill news conference.
"Two-thirds of the elderly poor happen to be women," said Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio). "To be 70 years old and female is to be alone and poor."
Using Census Bureau statistics, league President Lou Glasse gave an economic sketch of elderly women in an effort to dispel the "mythology" that all older people are well off.
*In 1984, about 16 million women and about 11 million men were over 64. Fifteen percent of the women and 8.7 percent of the men were living below the government's official poverty line -- then $4,979 for a single elderly person.
*Of the 3.3 million people over 64 living in poverty, 2.4 million of them, about 70 percent, were women.
*Median income for men over 64 was $10,450. For women in the same age group, it was $6,020.
*Forty-three percent of men over 64 and 20 percent of the women were receiving pensions to supplement their Social Security benefits. The median monthly income for those who received pensions was less for women than for men -- $233 to $484.
*Of 8 million elderly who lived alone in 1984, 6.4 million, about 80 percent, were women.
Oakar and Glasse said women's role as "care-givers" -- to their children, their husbands and their parents -- undermines their economic status in old age and leaves them with inadequate income. Younger women spend years out of the paid work force bearing and caring for children, so they don't earn Social Security credits or credits toward private pensions, Glasse and Oakar said.
In later years, according to the report, many women spend enormous amounts of time caring for elderly parents and husbands, again losing time from paid jobs and thus diminishing their earnings credits toward Social Security and private pensions.
The report estimates that 72 percent of the approximately 2.2 million people caring without pay for 1.2 million frail elderly at home are women.
The result, Glasse and Oakar said, is low Social Security benefits and low private pensions or no private pension at all.
"If you're undervalued in your pay when you're young, you get a double whammy when you're older," Oakar said.