July 26, 2021

Wyden, Merkley Co-Sponsor Bill to Close Retirement Gap for Women

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they are co-sponsoring the Women’s Retirement Protection Act of 2021 (WRPA) legislation to address the retirement gap and bolster women’s financial security.

“Coming out of a pandemic where more than 4 in 10 women expect to see long-term impacts on their finances, it is time to invest in economic equality so that everyone has the opportunity for a stable and secure retirement,” Wyden said. “WRPA legislation would close many of the loopholes in our financial law that are currently undermining the financial futures of American women.”

“The economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis have fallen especially hard on the shoulders of America’s working women—who went from often already taking on the majority of childcare responsibilities, to struggling to work without the help of the child care infrastructure they need and deserve. That disparity is even more pronounced among women of color, which is unacceptable,” said Merkley. “We need a comprehensive plan to tackle gender inequities in financial security, and that plan must include making sure that this pandemic doesn’t negatively impact women’s long-term financial futures and retirement savings.”

The reintroduction of the WRPA comes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis that have disproportionately impacted women, particularly women of color—with a recent survey finding that 40 percent of women said they expect the past year to have a long-term impact on their finances.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, data has long shown women’s financial futures are undermined by other factors. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the average woman loses more than $400,000 over a forty-year career due to pay inequality, requiring women to work for almost a decade longer than their male counterparts to make up the gender wage gap. Women are also more likely to be part-time workers—which can limit their access to employer-sponsored retirement plans. They may also be prevented from securing the retirement resources they are entitled to following a divorce due to barriers like complex rules and legal fees—as discussed in a 2020 GAO report.

The WRPA includes a set of solutions that work to close the retirement gap by addressing some of the challenges that disproportionately affect women as they plan for their financial futures. The legislation would strengthen consumer protections to safeguard retirement savings, increase eligibility for employer-sponsored retirement savings plans for part-time workers, increase access to information about retirement and savings tools, and help women with low incomes and survivors of domestic abuse get the retirement benefits they are entitled to following a divorce.

In the Senate, the WRPA is led by Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash. Along with Wyden and Merkley it is cosponsored by Senators Blumenthal, D-Conn., Hirono, D-Hawaii,  Klobuchar, D-Minn., Feinstein, D-Calif., Smith, D-Minn.,  Warren, D-Mass.,  Cantwell, D-Wash.,  Sanders, I-Vt., Baldwin, D-Wis., Bennet, D-Colo.,  Menendez, D-N.J., Cortez Masto, D-Nev.,  Kaine, D-Va., Padilla, D-Calif., Rosen, D-Nev.,  Brown, D-Ohio, Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Stabenow, D-Mich., Durbin, D-Ill.,  Duckworth, D-Ill., Shaheen, D-N.H., and Booker, D-N.J.

In the House, it is co-lead by Representatives Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Donald Norcross, D-N.J.

“Women, especially women with low incomes and women of color, were facing a retirement crisis even before the pandemic. Without swift and targeted action, women will feel the impact of the past year and a half of economic devastation for the rest of their lives. The Women's Retirement Protection Act will take meaningful steps to safeguard and protect women's retirement security," said Amy Matsui, Director of Income Security at the National Women’s Law Center.

“We applaud Senator Murray and Congresswoman Underwood for their efforts to address inequities that women face in the retirement system. The Women’s Retirement Protection Act of 2021 will expand coverage for part-time workers, provide help for women in obtaining a  share of their former spouse’s retirement benefits at divorce, and improve spousal rights in 401k, plans, all very important measures to improve retirement security for women,” said Karen Friedman, Executive Director of the Pension Rights Center.

Full text of the Women’s Retirement Protection Act is HERE.