Rachel Greszler, entitlements policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the spousal benefit for Social Security has become outdated because many women have worked long enough to get their own payments.

“(The spousal benefit) makes Social Security a bad deal for many working women who pay the full payroll tax, but may receive little or no increase in their future benefit as a result,” the Heritage Foundation executive said in written testimony for a Congressional Joint Economic Committee hearing on women’s retirement issues.

Social Security rules prevent beneficiaries from receiving their own benefits and a spousal benefit. The spousal benefit typically is equal to 50 percent of the worker's benefit.
Greszler also called for making Social Security into a means-tested benefit. In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee today, Social Security Administration Chief Actuary Stephen Goss warned Social Security benefits could be cut by 25 percent if Congress does not act soon.

Greszler said figures showing women make 77 cents for every dollar that men do are faulty. She contended the accurate pay disparity is between five and seven cents.

“Much of that gap likely reflects choices that women make to trade lower pay for non-wage compensation and accommodations-such as part-time work, personalized schedules and teleworking-that better meet the needs of today’s working women. Women should celebrate these increased flexibilities,” she said.

AARP Policy Director Debra Whitman told the session one of the reasons retirement security is a growing issue for women is the percentage of women in the workforce nearing retirement age has increased by a third in the last 20 years to 59 percent from 45 percent while the share of men in the labor pool has remained relatively constant at around 70 percent.

She advocated mandating spousal consent for defined contribution plan distribution decisions to increase the percentage of women in families getting annuities.

Whitman said one proposal -- to improve the health of the Social Security trust fund by reducing the cost-of-living adjustment -- would force many women into poverty.