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October 16th, 2008
12:39 PM ET

What about Jane Plumber?

Linda Basch
President, National Council for Research on Women

The all-too-familiar talking points of the candidates reverberated through the air waves for a third and last time on Wednesday, but one key voting constituency was missing from the debate, namely, Jane Plumber, and, more specifically, Jane’s retirement funds.

As the bottom falls out of the stock market, the housing market plummets, and sub-prime mortgages put many American voters—especially women—in a financial freefall, it is the federal safety net that they’re depending on to cushion their landing. For swing voters, the majority of whom are older woman, this highly contentious election may come down to two often overlooked, make or break issues: Social Security and Medicare.

So far, neither candidate seems to have woken up to the tough economic facts facing so many older women voters. Women represent 57 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries aged 62 and older and approximately 70 percent of beneficiaries aged 85 and older. Women who have been widowed, divorced, or never married are especially dependent on Social Security, which accounts for at least half the income of nearly three-fourths of non-married women aged 65 and older.

Nationally, Social Security is the only source of income for about one-quarter of elderly women, creating a precarious situation at a time in life when economic security needs are greatest. According to the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, half of female recipients would be in poverty without their Social Security benefits. As Senator McCain threatens to freeze all federal spending (barring veteran benefits) in order to address our public economic crisis, he forgets that his actions would precipitate a severe economic crisis for so many older women living S.S. check to S.S. check.

Women like McCain’s own mother, a visible reminder of the candidate’s robust genes, are the most at risk—often forced to forgo the medical tests or visits with a specialist they need due to prohibitive costs. Those who depend on Medicare for their health needs would have their very lives placed in jeopardy. And so many older women do. According to the Commonwealth Fund, 77% of elderly Medicare-Medicaid enrollees are women; of those aged 85 and older, 84% are women. How are these women going to fill their prescriptions or get yearly mammograms without government support?

Senator McCain’s other proposal for solving the Social Security calamity would be privatization, an idea that doesn’t sit well with older swing voters who are watching the Dow drop faster than it has since they were just babies. It seems unwise, even unethical, to hitch the welfare of our most vulnerable Americans on a volatile market. McCain has claimed that privatization would be optional and open to younger people, not a mandatory shift for older Americans. Even so, do grandmothers struggling to make ends meet really want to see their granddaughters investing their economic future in an unpredictable and unreliable marketplace? That’s not a safety net; it’s Russian roulette.

Although Senator Obama strongly opposes privatizing Social Security, first addressed in his 2005 National Press Club speech devoted to the topic, he has been less vocal in recent days. He invokes his own mother’s twin struggles with cancer and her health insurance company quite often, but has yet to lay out a comprehensive plan for the basic health and welfare of the aging population of this debt-ridden and demoralized country. Much of the Obama-Biden plan focuses on workplace pensions and incentives for retirement savings. As for Social Security, the most concrete reform he proposes is requiring those who earn over $250,000 to contribute two to four percent more to the program: not exactly a magic bullet.

Senators McCain and Obama have 22 days to reassure older, undecided women voters about the merits of their plans for Social Security. They would be wise to take this challenge seriously; according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women are much more worried than men about the possibility of reductions in their Social Security retirement income. And women’s concerns about retirement are similar across race and ethnicity as well as levels of educational attainment.

As they should be. We are facing the perfect storm of economic insecurity as the baby boomer generation ages into retirement, markets crash, and a profound national debt built up over years of irresponsible management threatens to obliterate Social Security as we know it. It’s beyond time that the candidates prioritized and proposed a sound solution for our shared insecurity.

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Deb from Wisconsin

    Social Security would be secure and stable if our government would stop raiding it anytime the politicians feel the need. Perhaps privatizing at least a portion of it would lead to a hard accounting of exactly what is in it and document when chunks of it "disappear". Perhaps, hopefully, when we taxpayers see this hard evidence, we will all stand up and put a stop to it.

    Another issue....why is it that nobody is commenting on the drain that the illegal alien population is placing on our social service system? How about a clean sweep of our cities and rural areas in an effort to send these individuals and families back to their own countries. We cannot afford to underwrite their healthcare and have our social security system, food stamps and housing programs subsidize their living in this country. I don't care whose lawn they mow, whose landscaping company they work for or whose crops they pick. They are bleeding us dry as a nation.

    October 16, 2008 at 8:38 pm |
  2. John Tarullo

    I am a real honest to God State licensed Master Plumber.
    I am 57 years old & started working as a ditch digger when I was 13.
    I can't believe that this phony is out there representing himself as a spokesman for thousands of people who belong to an honorable trade.
    This guy has to apologize to Americans for wasting all of our time on fictitious scenarios during one of the most important elections of my lifetime.

    October 16, 2008 at 8:30 pm |
  3. Angie

    Why does the Press immediately put the face of America as a White Republican working man? How about a middle class hard worker like me, mixed Irish, Hispanic, and Native American? I'm not a plumber. I'm a secretary. I work hard. Why isn't my face out there along with the millions more? I'm also hearing more about this mythical "Joe the Plumber". He's not a plumber. His name is Samuel, and he owes back taxes! I PAY TAXES! It's insulting to think the Press is comparing someone like this to someone like me or my husband!

    October 16, 2008 at 8:19 pm |
  4. Rose from Calif

    What about Jane the Nurse, teacher, and soldier? And another thing McCain never talked to Joe the Plumber and it wouldn't effect him anyway!

    October 16, 2008 at 7:39 pm |
  5. Suzi, Billerica, MA

    I thought that whole repeatedly using Joe Plumber by McCain was the same as his not looking Obama in the eye, his calling him that one, and his using Palin to do his dirty work false accusations and hate/fear mongering, for its a cowardice way of attacking someone with something you know is not fair and/or true and doing it in a cowardly way so its like you aren't doing it yourself or directly... so have it be Joe Plumber who is attacking Obama and not you McCain... its sad to see someone who obviously even 8 years ago had a giant pair, now need to grow a pair and be honest and direct and not use tactics to hide behind!

    October 16, 2008 at 6:14 pm |
  6. Cindy Ave

    Can anyone get an answer to this question about Joe the Plumber for me? Durning his interview with Diane Sawyer this morning Joe said he had been contacted by the McCain campaign and invited to attend a rally. He did not say, and she did not ask, what rally this was. Was he invited to a McCain rally or was he invited to an Obama rally as a plant and fodder for the debate last night? Call me cynical, but I can't help but wonder.

    October 16, 2008 at 6:00 pm |
  7. Bryant

    From John McCain's ridiculous handling of his VP candidate from the media, to his disrespect for eqaul pay for equal work , down to his insulting "finger quotes" when prioritizing a fetus's health over that of the "HEALTH" of the mother during last night's debate, are all clear examples of his non-progressive Republican ideology which is out of touch with the majority opinion of Americans and the rest of the free world. McCain ignorantly talks about his Pro-Life views then skirts the the fact that his own VP candidate has reservations about sex education in schools to prevent STDs and unwanted teenage. pregnancies. Furthermore, he talks about medical diseases like Autism and Down's Syndrome, but then his right-wing base, and his own VP candidate are against scientific research using stem-cells to find cures for our world's majors diseases like cancer, HIV , and Parkinson's Disease.

    I don't know who's more ignorant McCain or Palin. I voting for Obama-Biden on Nov. 4th!

    October 16, 2008 at 6:00 pm |
  8. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    Let's get the commentary back on topic and off the McCain hate track that seems to dominate this site. It will be so nice when this election is over and we all regain our sense of normal again.

    I agree women are overlooked in this election. But honestly, I don't know women who haven't saved and live simply check to check. My grandmothers all have extra money. Ditto for my great-aunts. I think living through the Great Depression as children and teens taught them not to rely on anything but themselves. They still are fiercely independent and watch every penny spent. I do believe that every marginalized group out there will be used against John McCain by the Obama attack machine. I don't think with the current financial situation brought to us compliments of Congress (that includes Obama and McCain), either future president will be able to do a whole lot to increase spending for the elderly. And furthermore, maybe instead of griping and complaining about how McCain will presumably screw over the elderly you should be looking at what he's done to ensure they aren't like the elderly in other countries who sweep streets for a living (if they have that at all). For the record, my grandmothers encouraged me to save and diversity even as a child. They knew better than to trust the government with their retirement, and they taught me likewise. Not all women in America are the same. Please don't do us the disservice of making us out to be.

    October 16, 2008 at 5:39 pm |
  9. Carol

    I'm surprised that there hasn't been more chatter about McCain's airquotes and sneer when he referred to the "health" of the mother being considered in laws affecting abortion rights.

    He seemed very annoyed that anyone would have to bother considering the health of the mother in any decision and said, something to the effect of, "this health argument has been stretched too far".

    I will never understand these holier-than-thou pro-lifers. They are so pro-life yet they're fine with endangering the mothers health; ok with sending kids barely out of their teens to war; ok with thousands of innocent civilians killed in their useless war; ok with children being born into situations where they are not wanted and then are subject to child abuse; ok with shooting animals from helicopters for fun. But remember, they are Pro-Life and therefore, they are the good people.

    October 16, 2008 at 4:46 pm |
  10. Lucy

    McCain does not believe in pro-choice or in equal pay for women. He was a womanizier and was still married when he started dating Cindy who was 17 years his senior and looks like "Barbie". Do you really think he is concerned with women's rights? I heard that Cindy was at least smart enough to make him sign a pre-nup. If the Republicans win then it will just be a few months before "mom" and maybe "grandma" too will have to move in with you to make ends meet. I suggest Republicans who do have mothers that have a "modest income" might think about becoming a swing voter.

    October 16, 2008 at 4:41 pm |
  11. Sandy, Arkansas

    Yes, there are Joe the Plumbers who own their own business, have numerous employees, do repair, construction, etc. and make $250,000 a year or more – probably just not a lot. Here in our town I am sure there are at least 2 or three plumbing companies who do that. Should we reward (punish) people for being ambitious and hard working and employers of others by raising their taxes? I think that was what was trying to be said. If you take the risks, work hard, and strive to achieve the government should not charge you more than the guy (or gal) who didn't. Tax rates should be equal...same percentage regardless of what you make and get rid of a lot of the write offs that mostly the wealthy and well connected can (and do) utilize to reduce their taxes. We should not give tax breaks to the wealthy and we should not give tax penalties...taxes should be equitable (equal) percentages on all.

    October 16, 2008 at 4:25 pm |
  12. Alex

    McCain continues to be his own worst enemy. He gets cute bringing up Joe the Plumber and inaccurately characterizes the tax affects under the Obama tax plan. But what is worst is he opens the door for the issue of the female who brought a lawsuit under the theory of equal pay for equal work. Now the Courts made an incredible ruling basically upholding a clear and unreasonable circumstance where men make more money than women doing the same job. Obama then pointed out McCain supports this clearly WRONG idea. Now I do not support Obama, but I do expect McCain to show more smarts than he's displayed during the debates. In fact, the only clear and certain notion McCain displays is his anger and disdain for his opponent. That is not a guy I want having his finger on the trigger.

    October 16, 2008 at 4:18 pm |
  13. Joy, Fort Gordon, Georgia

    Data has shown that if women were paid equal to their male counterparts that this would pull millions of famlies out of debt and poverty. So you want to know one way to fix the economy-EQUAL PAY. This is something that the Democratic party is pushing for. Obama has backed equal pay and Biden has the history of voting for and backing equal pay legislation, but McCain has voted against bills for equal pay and his running mate who keeps talking about breaking the glass ceiling has not said anything on the subject. Obviously if women want real substantive equality in the work place then vote for OBAMA/BIDEN.

    October 16, 2008 at 4:15 pm |
  14. Johnny from South Carolina

    McCain is out of touch with the people. I don't know of any plumbers that make $250,000 a year except for liquid drano. If I knew one that did I would have to make a career change. McCain could careless about Joe. He is simply using him for political reasons. McCain's new moto should be " I would rather lose my integrity than lose this election ".

    October 16, 2008 at 3:44 pm |
  15. Jerome S

    Isn't Samuel Joseph Worzelbacher a close relative of Robert Wurzelbacher of Milford, Ohio. Who is Charles Keatings son-in-law and the former Senior Vice President of American Continental, the parent company of the infamous Lincoln Savings and Loan. The now retired elder Wurzelbacher is also a major contributor to Republican causes. Smells like a planted question and republican media reponse.

    October 16, 2008 at 2:43 pm |
  16. Pat

    There are no Jane's in John's World. Just Sarahs and Cindys. And little does he know there aren't any Joe The Plumber's making 250,000 either! Least that's what the Joe the Plumber's told me. Scarry to be so out of touch especially when your standing on the second rung from the top!!!!!

    October 16, 2008 at 2:19 pm |
  17. Sean

    I am glad you are trying focus on real issues rather than "Joe The Plumber" who is, in fact; not a plumber or affiliated with the plumbers unions locally. He is not not going to be taxed under Obama's plan. He is liar and a fraud, I live in Toledo, OH watched it on local tv. I saw it then in the way he spoke and knew it would not vet out. I am campaigning for Obama here in Toledo, OH every moment I can spare. This just goes to show you what McCain's camp will do to shift focus off the real issues and the real heart of this campaign THE MIDDLE CLASS. These simple words McCain can not even utter are going to loose him in this election. His plans for SS and medicare are fundimentally flawed. None of which as much as the Healthcare plan which is rediculous, paying taxes on benefits and trading my $16,000 employeer provided coverage for a $5000 tax credit. You have got to be kidding. By the way, my coverage does not include plastic surgery or cosmetic surgery. This is just another rightwing ploy to undermine the collective bargaining powers of the unions and labor organizations in this country, the people who brought you THE MIDDLE CLASS.
    Thanks,
    Sean

    October 16, 2008 at 2:14 pm |
  18. ARLENE ALLEN

    Working women all over this great country are still waiting for equal pay for equal work. So I say-"Sen. Obama will help the Jane Plumbers here at home!" We need to take better care of the USA and all of its citizens BEFORE we try to police the rest of the world.
    Keep up the great work-CNN is great.

    Arlene Allen

    October 16, 2008 at 1:54 pm |
  19. Annie Kate

    All my mother has is her social security and Medicare. Without it she would have no health care and no income at all. Its getting harder for her to make ends meet on them because of spiraling costs but what she is getting is better than nothing at all. For the sake of our elderly and our disabled these programs need to be shored up and made stable. I hear a lot of people say nowdays that they aren't depending on social security being there when they retire; that's fine for them but for us who are older and who always believed it would be, it would be a disaster to discover that its not.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    October 16, 2008 at 1:26 pm |
  20. Alex Duthie

    Shaering the Wealth
    John McCain is ridiculing Obama for wanting Americans to Share the Wealth. The Republicans are totally against that. They want the wealthy to keep all their wealth, and add to it. They certainly do not want the American economy to be shared with the ordinary American people. They apparently do however do want to share the wealth with the Iraqis, to the tune of #10Billion per month.

    October 16, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  21. Max

    YEAH – what about JANE plumber or JANE engineer or JANE home renovator or JANE restaurant OWNER????

    October 16, 2008 at 12:48 pm |