Yes, it’s widely recognized that women have taken the brunt of the nation’s total job losses — they’re still down 5.3 million vs. 4.6 million for men even with the economy having rebounded somewhat off its COVID-19 lows — largely because working remotely isn’t possible in the hard-hit businesses like restaurants, hotels and retail stores where females dominate. And, yes, it’s also recognized that many moms were forced to drop out to look after their kids after schools went remote — with nearly four out of 10 currently working women still actively considering doing likewise, according to a recent survey by Fidelity Investments.
But what’s not talked about as much is this: the potential long-term consequences of having had their financial security and career prospects upended by the pandemic.
“Being in a position to take a career break by choice can be considered a privilege,” said Lorna Kapusta, head of women investors at Fidelity. “But we know for many in times of crisis like this one that stepping back from work is more like a necessity. Either way, it’s critically important to understand the decision’s impact on your savings today and into the future, so you can take steps to address it.”
Fidelity conducted an analysis of the estimated effect even a one-year career break could have on retirement savings, and the results are staggering.
Exhibit No. 1: Say you took your “break” at age 35 when you’d been earning $50,000 a year and had to subsequently accept a slightly lower salary just to get back into the workforce. Assuming a conservative 4.5 percent annual growth rate and factoring in lost retirement contributions — including a 3 percent match from your ex-employer on top of what would have been your own 9 percent contribution — your 401(k) would be $106,469 lighter ($733,325 vs. $839,594) by the time you turned 67.
Exhibit No. 2: Substitute a $75,000 salary and the difference is even bigger ($159,702, or $1,099,679 vs. $1,259,381).
Exhibit No. 3: And bigger still at $100,000 ($212,936, or $1,466,233 vs. $1,679,169).
Plus, don’t forget there’s also the matter of lost Social Security contributions. “Your benefit is calculated based on your top 35 years of earnings,” said Kapusta. “So if you work fewer years, have a lower salary, or don’t reach the minimum eligibility, you may have a smaller check when it comes time to collect in retirement.” All of which helps explain the impetus for launching Fidelity’s weekly Q&A discussion series called “Women Talk Money.” Airing live on Zoom every Wednesday at noon ET and available later on demand, each 30-minute interactive episode uses viewer-submitted questions to address a different topic each week, ranging from job loss to health care to the hidden costs of caregiving.
“It’s real talk to help answer women’s most pressing money questions right now — no jargon or judgment,” said Kapusta, noting that the program’s six-part, archived video series is also must-see viewing for those who want to learn the key factors that can significantly impact women’s financial futures.
Finally, some historical perspective. When the Labor Department first started tracking such data back in 1948, only one third of women held jobs. That number had nearly doubled by the late 1990s.
And today? The ratio of women working has fallen below 57 percent for the first time since 1988.