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Message to Maine "Working Women: Equality Now and in Retirement"

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When the going gets tough, it often gets tougher for women than men. This fall, the economic slump worsened dramatically when credit and stock markets plunged. American women—who on average earn less, are often the head of single parent households, and often don't accumulate retirement savings or benefits equal to men's—are especially vulnerable in this economic downturn, as are the families they support. I am committed to strengthening the employment opportunities and financial security of U.S. women.

I have advocated a number of measures that will help achieve this goal. In March, I introduced the Women's Retirement Security Act to open up new opportunities for all Americans to invest in their retirement. The bill is particularly geared toward helping women save for later in life because women generally live longer and have less retirement income than men.

Last year, the Government Accountability Office released its study confirming what most women already know: Changes in marital status and time away from work to have children or care for family members can significantly impact women's pensions, savings, and Social Security earnings. Likewise, women's Social Security benefits are lower because they are more likely to work part-time, or because their part-time work does not offer an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. Consequently, women over 65 are significantly more likely to live in poverty than men of the same age. Women also live longer on average than men, which usually means greater health care costs that can wipe out retirement savings.

My bill tackles these problems comprehensively through Automatic IRA plans for businesses and establishes tax credits for small businesses to defray the cost of getting IRAs up and running; expanded eligibility for a tax credit for retirement savings; start-up credit for new small business retirement plan contributions; exempt up to half of lifetime annuity income; treat the self-employed the same as other workers regarding retirement savings; grants and tax benefits for qualified retirement planning services, and a new program to help people plan for their retirement. My bill would also create incentives for all Americans to plan for long-term healthcare needs.

Recently, Corporate Voices for Working Families and Working Mother Media named me one of the "Best of Congress" for my advocacy of legislation and policies to improve the lives of working families.

The sponsors singled out my bill to make Lifelong Learning Accounts more widely available as "an innovative and flexible way for people to afford the training they need to stay current in their fields, advance to more challenging positions or pursue new interests." Similar to 401(k) accounts, the program allows employees to contribute before tax dollars and obtain matching employer contributions to pay for education.

Women constitute more than half the population of our nation, often carry the bulk of household responsibilities, and a majority also works outside the home. The rights to equal opportunity, equal pay, and equal respect have been on the books for a long time in this country. It is time to make fair play for women a reality. We all benefit when women can reach their full potential and prosper. The programs I have urged will level the playing field so that more women can become economically self-sufficient; this will free many from dependence on public health and financial assistance, and ensure that all women have economic opportunity and the ability to provide a better life for themselves and their families. As a husband, father of two daughters and grandfather, I am committed to work toward a more economically secure future for all Americans.

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