Women Need to Vote for Their Own Freedom

That’s the title of my piece in Bloomberg today. My argument is simple, but somewhat counterintuitive: Women would strongly benefit if the government were to stop interfering in so many areas of our lives. Provisions in the tax code have a great influence on the decisions that women make — to work or not, to work full time or to work part time. Regulations, even the ones that are supposedly intended to protect women, have a negative impact on women’s employment.

Also, government benefits tend to make people dependent, which is too bad considering how long women have fought for their independence. The example I use is the one of Social Security: Women depend on Social Security more than men. Based on Social Security data, almost 29 percent of women over age 65 rely on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their retirement income. That number increases to 46 percent for unmarried elderly women. These women are particularly vulnerable to changes in government policies. At any time, Congress can reduce benefits even for people who have paid into the system their entire lives. In a sense, it did that earlier this month by saying that Social Security recipients won’t get a cost-of-living increase this year. 

The reality is that the benefits these women are receiving from Social Security and are counting on receiving in the future are not a sure thing. If fact, we should all prepare for the likelihood that they will be reduced. Starting in 2014, the system will run a deficit, and the trust fund will run dry in 2037. Benefit cuts seem inevitable. Women stand to lose the most.

I have been getting a lot of very negative e-mails just for suggesting that women would be better off breaking their dependence on government payouts. As expected, I have been accused of wanting to put older women on a cat-food diet.

But the reality is not negotiable. Social Security is running out of money. So changes to benefits seem inevitable, unless the government makes cuts to Medicare and other programs. I doubt this is very realistic. Therefore, I think it would be very beneficial for women to break their dependency now.

Veronique de Rugy — Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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