The Florida retiree is an easily recognizable trope in pop culture. They’re usually white men and women spending their twilight years in the Sunshine State. They play golf, meet for poker nights, and power walk around the cul-de-sacs of their planned neighborhoods with names like “Emerald Bays” and “Waterset.”
But the reality of people hitting retirement age in Florida is not as idyllic — especially when we’re talking about women reaching retirement age in Florida.
“Women in Florida are actually economically insecure,” says Mary Gatta, a professor of sociology at City University of New York’s Guttman Community College. Gatta recently published a report for the American Association of University Women on this very topic. The report will be a featured part of her forthcoming book “Waiting On Retirement: Aging And Economic Insecurity In Low-Wage Work,” which is due out this October.
“What we saw in Florida is that 40 percent of all retired households are economically insecure across the state,” she says. “That runs counter to the idea of the retiree who is living well.” If you break those numbers down by gender, the divide becomes even greater. Gatta found that women are significantly less secure than men. “Almost 67 percent live below economic security, compared to 48 percent of men,” she says.
This insecurity, it turns out, has more than a little to do with the ways in which women are treated in the workplace throughout their lives. The pay gap is an obvious culprit, although Gatta does point out that the gap is smaller in Florida than across the country.
“However, all throughout a woman’s life, she’s being paid less. That means she’s paying less into social security, and less into any company-sponsored retirement fund she may be eligible for,” Gatta says.
In Florida, the median social security income for women is $11,587. For men, it is just over $16,000.
There’s also the fact that women tend to take time out of the labor market to care for children and for elderly family members. Florida is not a state that requires paid leave. “Some when someone takes time out, they’re not getting any form of income,” Gatta says. “And since there is no caregiving credit for social security, those are lost months and years a woman is paying toward her retirement.” And without a caregiver credit, the message is that the work that women do at the home is not valued.
Women also tend to take jobs that are less likely to have a pension of employer-sponsored retirement programs. “Women tend to be involved in caretaking work, like hospitality workers, retail workers, home healthcare aids, and more,” Gatta says. “So everything that starts to happen in terms of the labor market is impacting women and families when they are working, but also when they can no longer work.”
If this sounds like something that occurs outside of Florida as well, it’s because it is. Gatta says that Florida is a perfect example of what happens when government policy does not look out for folks as they age. And while her research on women is mainly focused in Florida, policy is impacting retirement across the country.
There are serious consequences to a system that does not set women up to be secure once they can no longer work. “People are now outliving their savings,” Gatta says. “Women who are already economically insecure fall deeper into these patterns.” She points to cuts in SNAP, food stamps, and healthcare.
When a system favors male workers, it creates gendered expectations around money. Gatta recalls a focus group in which a handful of women spoke about how after their husbands died, they didn’t know where money was. This forces women to be reliant on their husbands, so when their husbands are no longer around, they struggle.
And that, Gatta says, is a big reason why we need to look to policy to affect change. “We need to strengthen the social security drought,” she says. “Expecting folks to be independent after they’ve spent their lives as part of a system that makes them reliant is not something that works.”
Gatta is also a proponent of developing an economic security agenda that helps women and families across their lifetimes so that they can age comfortably.