March is Women’s History Month — a time to focus not just on the past, but on the challenges women continue to face in the 21st century.
Ida May Fuller, born on September 6, 1874, was the first American to receive a monthly Social Security benefit check. Along with Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins — who was instrumental in the creation of the Social Security Act — Ida May Fuller was one of the first famous women of Social Security. She received the check, amounting to $22.54, on January 31, 1940. Back then, people understood that she would be one of millions that would be positively affected by retirement benefits.
Seventy-six years after that first check, Social Security continues to play a vital role in the lives of women. With longer life expectancies than men, women tend to live more years in retirement and have a greater chance of exhausting other sources of income. In fact, 60% of all people receiving Social Security benefits today are women and 68% of those over the age of 85 are women. With the national average life expectancy for women in the United States rising, many women will have decades to enjoy retirement. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a girl born today can expect to live more than 80 years. As a result, experts generally agree that if women want to ensure that their retirement years are comfortable, they need to plan early and wisely.
What you can do
“The best place to begin is by knowing what you can expect to receive from Social Security, and how much more you are likely to need to enjoy a comfortable retirement,” said Carolyn W. Colvin, Social Security’s Acting Commissioner and a Social Security pioneer woman in her own right.
You can start with a visit to Social Security’s Retirement Estimator. There, in just a few minutes, you can get a personalized, instant estimate of your retirement benefits. Plug in different scenarios, such as retirement ages or projected earnings, to get an idea of how such things might change your future benefit amounts. You can find it at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
You should also visit Social Security’s financial planning website at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners. It provides detailed information about how marriage, widowhood, divorce, self-employment, government service, and other life or career events can affect your Social Security.
Your benefits are based on your earnings, so you should create your personal my Social Security account to verify that your earnings were reported correctly.
If you want more information about the role of Social Security in women’s lives today, Social Security has a booklet that you may find useful. It is called Social Security: What Every Woman Should Know. You can find it online at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10127.html.
By Kirk Larson
Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist