Retirement is a luxury – and a right, older Iowa women say

January 27, 2020 6:00 am
Women work on a factory line.

Women work on a factory line in this file photo. Most Iowa women age 50-plus say retirement is a “luxury.” (Photo by Mark Lyons/Getty Images)

Two-thirds of Iowa women age 50 and over say retirement is a “luxury,” according to a poll conducted for AARP.

However, 90 percent of Iowa women in this age group say they have earned the right to retire — and 65 percent would retire now if they could.

I wrote last week about AARP’s poll and the importance this large voting bloc was placing on health-care costs as an issue in the 2020 elections. But there’s a lot more to delve into here. Since I’m a 50-plus Iowa woman who’s trying to save for retirement, this data was of particular interest to me.

Since women age 50-plus also say they expect to turn out in large numbers in the Iowa Democratic caucuses and 2020 elections, elected officials and candidates also might want to pay attention to this group’s attitudes toward work and concerns for the future.

For example:

  • Seventy-eight percent say they would like to retire — and a majority agrees regardless of their party affiliation, income level or employment status.
  • Sixty-five percent say they would retire now if they could.
  • Ninety percent say they have earned the right to retire.
  • But 66 percent say retirement today is a luxury.

Only 20 percent of Iowa women in this age group say they are “very confident” they will have enough money to retire comfortably. And while a majority is at least somewhat confident of their retirement savings, 43 percent say they are “not very confident” or “not at all confident” they will have enough money. Thirty-eight percent of the women who took the poll were retired already, so they speak from experience.

Those who aren’t confident are most likely (63 percent) to say Social Security is not enough to make ends meet. Forty-four percent said they never made enough money to save for retirement — that’s a common issue for women who may have taken time out of work to care for children or elderly parents. And 42 percent said their health care costs were very expensive.

A majority (62 percent) gave their elected officials a D or F grade for their work in making it easier to save for retirement. Only 10 percent gave these efforts and A or B grade.

Fifty-plus women had a suggestion: “We should strengthen Social Security so every American has a chance to retire.” That statement had 90 percent agreement, with a majority in every political affiliation saying they strongly agree.

In Iowa, as our elected officials wrestle with a workforce shortage, making it easier for 50-something women to retire may not be at the top of the to-do list. And in fact, 82 percent of women said their work gives them a sense of purpose. Fifty-plus women were split on their agreement with the statement, “I never want to stop working altogether.”

A significant share of women in this age group plan to work at least part time to help cover costs: 28 percent said they plan cover costs with part-time work; 16 percent with full-time work; 2 percent by starting a business  and 3 percent by freelancing or working in the “gig” economy.

Here’s a tip for elected officials and employers who want to keep over-50 women in the workforce: Make it easier for them to cover their health care costs and care for family members so they can save for retirement. It may seem contradictory, but retirement security is a powerful incentive for women my age and older to keep on working.

About the poll

This survey was conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of AARP between Dec. 5, 2019-Dec. 25, 2019, among 1,001 self-identified registered women voters above the age of 50. The data from phone and online interviews were combined and weighted to reflect known demographics. The weighted sample of Democrats in the poll totaled 397. This survey does not report a margin of error.

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