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Boomer women take a bow. You’ve worked and earned more than the generation before you and will reap those rewards in retirement. Rosie the Riveter would be proud.

That’s the good news from a new study by the Urban Institute that was discussed yesterday at a forum held inWashington, DC titillating titled: “Can Boomer Women Afford to Retire?”

Projections show that the majority of boomer women will earn their own Social Security and will receive higher benefits than previous generations. In addition, more will have their own pensions or retirement accounts, which will generally be worth more than earlier generations’ accounts.





Those are some findings of “Boomers’ RetirementIncome Prospects,” by Melissa Favreault, Richard Johnson, Karen Smith, and Sheila Zedlewski. The report compares earnings, retirement, and financial assets of boomers born between 1946 and 1955, and those late-boomers born between 1956 and 1965, and a pre-boomer group, born between 1936 and 1945.

The researchers found that women are delaying retirement, as are men. Between 1990 and 2010, labor force participation rates at ages 62 and older increased from 22 to 29 percent for men and from 12 to 20 percent for women. This growth stems, in part, from Social Security changes that raised the full retirement age, as well as the shift away from traditional private-sector pension plans that reward early retirement. By age 70, women now 47 to 56 will have worked a median 40 years of employment, compared with 30 years for pre-boomer women, according to the report.

Wages are better, but..Employed boomer women born between 1946 and 1955 earn 36 percent more per year in inflation-adjusted dollars than their pre-boomer counterparts ($30,000 versus $22,100), while women ages 50 to 54  will earn 59 percent more ($35,100).

While it’s great that women’s income has gone up over the years, if you ask me, those annual earnings are depressing. Reality bites. Men ages 50 to 54 earn a median annual income of $48,900 per year. And men ages 55 to 56 clock in at $50,400.

The wage gap makes me crazy. I have battled it myself since my 20s, and there’s much more to these numbers than this survey unveils, so bear with me while I climb up on my soapbox.

According to the most recent figures from the Bureau for Labor Statistics, white women earned 81.4 percent as much as their male counterparts, compared with black (91.1 percent), Asian (80.3 percent), and Hispanic women (90.4 percent).

The fact that women earn less has serious repercussions. Reduced salaries mean smaller Social Security payouts and slimmer pension benefits, too. To calculate your Social Security payout, click here. For more analysis, go to The Big Decision: When To Take Social Security) and How Not to Outlive Your Money.

Then too, the report does not get into the fact that many women take time off full-time work to raise a family or care for an aging relative.The result: fewer years they can pay into a retirement plan. Women are also more likely to work for smaller firms or part-time in jobs that have no tax-deferred retirement plan at all.

Women live roughly five years longer than men, so they need more funds set aside to protect against outliving their income. Alas, U.S. women are behind in saving for retirement, according to the 2011 retirement survey from Wells Fargo. The survey queried middle-class women across five decades, from those in their mid-20s to those who are already retired and in their 60s.

Women hold more than half of high-paying management and professional positions in the U.S., and three women are in college now for every two men. But when it comes to retirement, they lag in their confidence about how to prepare for this phase in life, and they are less likely to see themselves in the driver’s seat, says Karen Wimbish, head of Retail Retirement for Wells Fargo.  Just 54 percent of women said they are “confident” they will have enough saved to “live the life they want” in retirement, compared to 62 percent of men.

Can boomer women afford to retire? Your guess is as good as mine. The Urban Institute study’s bottom line: Boomers have “increasingly uncertain retirement prospects”. How boomers really fare in retirement will hinge on several unknowns, the report authors conclude: How much will stocks and bonds earn over the coming decades? Will more boomers than we expect end up working well into old age? Will a significant share end up dipping into their housing wealth? Will Congress cut boomers’ Social Security?






No kids to pick-up the pieces. This healthcare issue hits home for me touching on something that causes anxiety when I let myself think about it. “Adult children often support their retired parents today, sometimes with financial assistance, but more often with chores and personal care when their parents become frail,” the researchers note. “However, declining fertility rates will leave about one in six late-boomer women childless. More boomers will need to pay for help if they become frail.”

I personally stress about this since I fall into this category. Who is going to chip in for my health care needs if I don’t have enough socked away to cover it? What if I end up needing the kind of care my dad did when he battled Alzheimer’s. See my family’s story here. I can’t really expect my nieces and nephews to pay for my care, they have their own parents to worry about.

So while I’m really happy to find evidence that  women are better off than they were in the workforce, I’m still worried about boomer women, myself included. How  we deal with aging and retirement–particularly if you’re a woman who doesn’t have a spouse or a partner to share the load–is going to take discipline and focus.

If you’re not paying attention to your retirement savings already, do me a favor, try one thing today to start educating yourself about investments like Roth IRAs and mutual funds, long-term care insurance and annuties.

There’s lots of help available on the Internet. One site I particularly like for women is WISER. Set aside the time to learn about investing and retirement planning. It will pay-off. To quickly estimate how much you need to save, use Choose to Save’sBallpark E$timatecalculator. Don’t let the numbers trouble you —think of  it as an incentive to get to work.

As the 1942 song goes: “ All the day long, Whether rain or shine. She’s part of the assembly line. She’s making history. Working for victory– Rosie the Riveter”. . To read the Urban Institute’s full report, click here.

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