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Social Security, Medicare are on the line this November — and women older than 50 know it

Associated Press/Ross D. Franklin
A where to vote sign points voters in the direction of the polling station as the sun beats down as Arizona voters go the polls to cast their ballots, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Women older than 50 are the most likely group to vote in the midterm elections and make up a large and growing share of the electorate; in fact, nearly 1 in 3 votes cast in 2020 were from women in this age group. Despite women’s electoral heft, Republican Senate candidates like Blake Masters of Arizona, Adam Laxalt of Nevada and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have called for cuts to two key programs on which 50+ women disproportionately rely on and strongly support: Social Security and Medicare.

But the truth is that they are hardly alone in today’s MAGA Republican Party. In fact, roughly 75 percent of Republicans in the U.S. House have signed on to a budget plan that would cut these programs. And a new report out this week reveals that all four Republicans running for the top slot on the House Budget Committee are vowing to hold America’s credit rating hostage and plunge our economy into recession in order to force severe cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits. It should therefore come as no surprise that recent polling shows many of these women feel misunderstood and even ignored by politicians, and have clear concerns that cut across ideological lines.

Kitchen-table economic issues loom large for 50+ women. Baby boomer and Gen X women participated — and continue to participate — in the labor force at rates that exceed any prior generation and are the fastest-growing age-gender category in the labor market today. Even so, women have continued to bear the disproportionate costs of the gender wage gap, a lack of paid leave, sexist and racist discrimination, and the uneven burden of family caregiving — costs that have a cumulative, negative impact on women’s economic security and their households’ finances.

Social Security provides lifetime, inflation-adjusted income, which is especially important for women, who live longer, on average, than men. Yet, as noted above, leading congressional Republicans have recently renewed their focus on cutting retirement benefits if they take back control of the House of Representatives, without regard for women’s health and security in retirement.

Health coverage — particularly Medicare — similarly, is a lifeline for aging women, who have greater lifetime medical costs when compared with men. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act included a long-sought policy to allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs, create a $2,000 out-of-pocket spending cap on prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries and extend enhanced Affordable Care subsidies to lower health insurance premiums. All of these policies will go far to lower everyday costs for women, in particular, but MAGA Republicans are vowing to undo all of this progress. For instance, just last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a bill to overturn these prescription drug reforms, which will increase costs and put prescriptions out of reach for consumers, but particularly women. In fact, 30 percent of women are unable to afford at least one prescription in any given year, compared with 20 percent of men. Meanwhile, Florida’s other senator, Rick Scott, has stated a goal to have all federal legislation “sunset” after five years — an unprecedented threat to Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, not to mention Social Security.

Candidates need to explain to 50+ women voters — and all voters — how they would bolster retirement and health care programs, as well as build on the successes such as the Inflation Reduction Act to deliver on critical economic issues and lower everyday costs. Beyond these priorities, candidates must also commit to addressing long-standing issues such as the gender and racial wage gap and the lack of comprehensive paid leave and child and elder care — burdens that fall heavily on older and younger women alike.

In concert with extremists’ desire to deny the basic dignity of all women through the removal of their reproductive rights and agency, the experiences, priorities and needs of older women are often diminished and marginalized — in our politics, media and everyday life. Policymakers should commit to a new path forward and ensure that the issues that matter most to older women take center stage in their policy agendas. If candidates are not responsive to their needs, women will undoubtedly remember when they cast their ballots this fall.

Beth Almeida is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Maggie Jo Buchanan is the senior director of the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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