In March, we celebrate Women’s History Month, a tradition that began in 1987 to celebrate women’s contributions to history, culture and society.
As we recognize Women’s History Month in 2021, however, we are reminded that the year that has passed since last year’s celebration has been a difficult one for many women. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women. In fact, it’s so profound that some have described it as a “female recession.”
According to the Labor Department, women are down 5.4 million jobs since February 2020, while men are down 4.4 million. In December alone, women lost 196,000 jobs – while men actually gained 16,000 jobs.
Our own research shows that the indicators go even deeper than that. A survey we did in partnership with Age Wave showed that while 56% of men are confident about their retirement, only 41% of women say the same.
Fortunately, there are a few steps women can take to help improve their financial outlook. Suggestions include:
Take full advantage of retirement plans. If you’re still working and your employer offers a 401(k) or similar retirement plan, take full advantage of it. Contribute as much as you can afford each year, and increase your contributions if your salary increases. Be sure to choose the mix of investments that provide the most growth potential, given your individual risk tolerance.
Evaluate Social Security options. You can typically start taking Social Security benefits at age 62, but your monthly checks will be much larger if you wait until your “full” retirement age, which is usually between 66 and 67. You should also consider whether you’d be better off taking spousal benefits if you’re married and your spouse earned more money than you. If you’re divorced, you may still be eligible for spousal benefits as long as you were married for at least 10 years and you haven’t remarried.
Look for unexpected income opportunities. Even after you’ve formally retired, you may still find ways to receive earned income. For example, you could work part time or do some consulting. If you’re a caregiver, you may be able to receive some compensation for your work. Many local governments pay non-spouse caregivers who act as personal attendants, although these rules vary greatly by state and county.
Keep the four pillars in mind. Our research with Age Wave revealed that there are four key ingredients — or pillars — for living well in retirement: health, family, purpose and finances. When thinking about the goals you have for retirement, and how you want to get back on track to achieve them, it may be helpful to think about each of these four areas and how you might want to ensure you’re addressing them.
These certainly aren’t the only ways you may be able to improve your financial outlook, but hopefully they at least demonstrate the possibilities. Perhaps by Women’s History Month next year, we’ll have an opportunity to celebrate a brighter financial future for all.
Ken Cella is principal of Edward Jones’ Client Strategies Group.