Not every woman needs to work to pay her family’s monthly bills, but very few women can dismiss the fact that a current resume and even a small, steady income strengthens their own long-term financial security. This fact holds true despite two big caregiving jobs—children and aging parents—and as I say in my book, flexwork is the answer to blending work and life.
Though we all like to put blinders on about unpleasant possibilities, women in traditional marriages (or women who depend on ex-husbands for alimony) could be left to their own financial devices for two major reasons:
Households that rely only on a male breadwinner have a 21% chance that disability will strike for three months or longer during his career. These are statistics for a 35-year-old male who leads a generally healthy lifestyle. That same man has a 38% chance of a disability that would last five years or longer (the average disability is 82 months.) Women actually have a slightly higher risk of a disability that lasts three months or more.
Most women who say the “till death do us part” phrase in their marriage vows think they won’t face this life change until they’re well into their retirement years. In reality, one-third of women become widowed before age 60, and half by age 65. Since an early death of a spouse is not anticipated, it can be especially hard for women to pick up the financial pieces and move on. If a spouse dies well before age 65, it’s likely a retirement nest egg is only a work in progress. One in four 65-year-old women will live past age 90, making more than 30 years of savings for retirement a realistic target. Only 27% of married women and 8% of unmarried women have $250,000 or more saved for retirement.
Statistics like these can seem to represent “someone else’s” life, but plenty of women find themselves in a financial pickle. Here’s an eye-opening example a woman in California wrote about in her newsletter for mothers in and out of the workforce.
My friend was recently diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. She has two young children. When her eldest was born she decided to be a stay-at-home mom, since her salary wasn’t huge—and little would be left over after childcare, taxes and commuting expenses. She wanted to be home while her kids were little, too. Her husband is older and when he retired, she went back to work to become the breadwinner.
While at home she volunteered for organizations other than school to retain her professional interests and network, stay on top of relevant industry technology, etc. Despite her long break, she quickly found a fantastic job with a great salary.
Now she’s in a major health crisis, and she cannot work. She also has not worked long enough in her new job to qualify for long-term disability and other benefits. In California you’re not eligible for state disability benefits unless you’ve worked for a significant period of time in the past 5 to 18 months. Even if you’re eligible, benefits only last for 12 months and the maximum you can receive is $60,000 per year.
Likewise, you can’t get federal disability benefits if you haven’t worked and contributed to Social Security for five out of the past ten years. That means that once you have run through your savings, the most you can receive is Supplemental Security Income of approximately $950 per month.
If my friend had continued to work when she became a mother, or even returned to work after her second baby was born, she would be entitled to:
- State Disability benefits of $60,000 for the next 12 months
- Federal Disability of up to $34,000 per year for the remaining period she could not work.
As things stand, she will be entitled to receive about $12,000 per year to live on. That’s it. The penalty for being a stay-at-home mother is potentially $200,000 for the next five years.
A serious illness in the family—or loss of a breadwinner’s job, divorce, or other big life challenges that none of us are immune from—can severely impact family finances. Even a modest income safety net can make all the difference, to say nothing of underrated employer-provided benefits such as life insurance or long-term disability.
Finding flexwork today is so much easier than picking up the financial pieces tomorrow. Just as few families view life or homeowner’s insurance as foolish investments, it is equally wise for women to always “find the work that fits your life.” The ability to generate an income is as important as insuring your life against illness or your home against fire.
The easiest way to work and care for family—children and aging parents—is through flexwork. Today flexwork is lucrative and challenging…all the way up to the executive levels. Make sure that you know the 6 different kinds of flexwork and let me know if you need help figuring out which one is right for you.