Making Financial Provision
Since a disproportionate number of single women become dependent in their old age it is obvious that this aspect of their planning requires special attention.
First of all there is the question of low incomes. A number of the women included in this study had in-comes which placed them in the upper third of the income groups but a few were receiving incomes which were hardly sufficient for self-support. Rates of pay for the single woman are predicated on the assumption that she has no dependents while the majority of single women who work do have dependents. Many older single women are employed in unorganized trades in which all wages are low and many of them are not even protected by minimum wage legislation. As a consequence they do not receive a wage sufficient for health and decency even during their best years. One of the chief reasons for the dependency of single women during their later years is poor health due to low standards of living. During their many years of gainful employment they have not earned enough to pay for proper food or decent shelter or medical care or a normal social life. It is not surprising that an undue proportion of those who have come from the ranks of unskilled and casual labor become dependent on the public for support. Much of this dependency could be prevented by better wages, and better working conditions.
The working life of the single woman is too long. Even the women in clerical and semi-professional work with whom we talked had started work as young as fifteen or sixteen and the woman in industry often starts younger. When the single woman is forty-five years old she has worked thirty years, when she is fifty-five years old she has worked forty years. That is long enough for the average woman to work at top speed. The fact that retirement annuities begin at sixty-five, if they begin at all, may serve as a partial explanation of the high death rate prevailing among some groups of older single women. The demands of steady employment are usually too much for the single woman who has already worked for forty years even if she has been able to hold on to her job. And many of them are not able to find employment when they are over fifty, even those who are in clerical and professional work. The retirement age for women should obyiously be fifty-five and ample provision should be made at that age. It should not be necessary for a woman who has worked for forty years to go on relief. Experience has shown that women need special protection in the work situation and that protection should be extended to the fixing of an earlier retirement age. Some groups of men workers need such protection, too, but women need it more and they should be first on the list of those who receive it.
Some single women of exceptional ability make adequate provisions for their own retirement on an individual basis. They are the fortunate few and it cannot be assumed that all women could or should do so. The necessity for old-age insurance for workers has been recognized and some provision made for it in social security legislation. But many single women could make more adequate provision for retirement themselves if they were willing or able to face the necessity of doing so. Personal thrift is a much derided practice in some American circles today but it remains a necessity for many single women if they want to keep off the relief rolls. And single women are generous spenders both for themselves and others. This is partly due to the fact that the gregarious life which they lead induces spending. Then, too, the woman who works must spend more on her clothes than the woman who remains at home if she is to hold her position and maintain a normal social life. Other items of personal expenditure are higher, too. Many single women persist in the illogical belief that they will marry some one who will provide for them and that they need make no provision themselves. Others neglect to save because they are too optimistic about their ability to continue in gainful employment. They believe that their earning power will continue to be good through the years. Others proceed on the assumption that spending is good business since it enhances good health and good spirits and so prolongs the working life.
Apparently the greatest single reason of a personal nature why the women in clerical and professional pursuits with whom we talked were not saving or were saving so little were the demands made upon them by members of their own families and by charitable institutions. "She earns well, she has no one but herself" was apparently the reason for persistent and sometimes unreasonable demands which drained the single woman's purse and caused her to neglect to provide for herself. Very few people appeared to be aware of the high rate of dependency among older single women or of the pitifully inadequate provisions for their care which exist when they become dependent. One single woman suggested that every single woman oyer thirty-five should be taken on a tour of inspection to the "poor house" in which so many single women reside and then while she was still fresh from the experience be introduced to her neighborhood savings bank or insurance office.
Personal savings are obviously impossible for some women. Others who can save a little find their saving inadequate as a provision for old age. One woman who had saved persistently over a period of years and who had made careful provision for retirement at sixty-five, lost her position during the pre-war depression and was unable to secure other employment. She was obliged to borrow on her annuity in order to sup-port herself and to pay for an expensive illness which followed four years of unemployment. As a consequence she found herself at sixty-one without funds and without work. Members of her family were unable to help her and she was obliged to go on relief. This woman had been employed steadily from the age of sixteen to the age of fifty-seven, a period of forty-one years.
Some older women had invested their savings unwisely and received no return from them. A few had been defrauded of their savings. Others had used their savings during the illness or unemployment of themselves or members of their family. Others had arrived at the retirement age with their savings relatively intact and were able to use them to supplement the allowances which their employment annuities had provided. If an employed woman can keep her health and her job and if she has no dependents she may be able to provide for her old age through her personal savings if she can invest them wisely. But few women find themselves in such fortunate circumstances. Group savings and insurance provide safety for some. But many single women from poorly paid and unprotected occupations become dependent upon public or private relief societies when they can no longer work and it is evident that their plight makes urgent demands for study and relief.