Last week we wrote about the challenges facing black women in saving for retirement, but how many black women benefit from public pensions and the security they provide. Retirement insecurity is a problem for black women of all ages, but it is particularly acute for millennial black women. Millennials as a generation are facing obstacles to saving for retirement not faced by previous generations.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 2013, only 41 percent of prime working age black families (ages 32-61) had any retirement savings. This is a decline from 47 percent in 2007- just before the Great Recession. Among that 41 percent of black families with retirement savings, the median amount saved was only $22,000- not nearly enough to finance a secure retirement.
The numbers are even worse for millennials. The National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) reported that, in 2014, 70 percent of working black millennials had no retirement savings. Millennials often face obstacles to participating in an employer sponsored retirement plan. According to the NIRS report, while 67 percent of black millennials work for an employer that offers a retirement plan, only 47 percent are eligible to participate in the plan. This means that only about 30 percent of black millennials are actually participating in an employer sponsored retirement plan. For millennial black women in particular, their rates of eligibility for a retirement plan (41.7 percent) and, therefore, participation in that plan (25.5 percent) are lower than for millennial black men.
Public pensions help many black families prepare for retirement. Unfortunately, millennial black women are again at a disadvantage here. Due to various constitutional and legal protections, politicians who seek to gut pensions often cannot cut benefits for current employees or retirees. This means any changes must be forced on “future hires.” In practice, this means millennials who are just beginning careers in education, nursing, firefighting, or other public sector work may find themselves excluded from participating in the same pension plan as their older coworkers. In some states, this might mean not having access to a defined benefit pension plan at all. In other states, it might mean participating in a hybrid defined benefit-defined contribution plan with a less generous pension component. When millennial black women are only given access to these less generous pension plans, it severely weakens their retirement security.
Tomorrow, August 7th, is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. Black women already face many obstacles to saving for a secure retirement, but these challenges are particularly acute for millennial black women. This is why we must work to protect pensions: to preserve retirement security for black women who would otherwise retire into poverty at alarmingly high rates.