What if I don't get a promotion? What if I take time off to raise my children? What if I can't find another job with benefits? The phrase "what if" seems to be a constant part of life for American women as they navigate their careers.
A recent article from CNN Money reporter Melanie Hickin shows how these "what if" questions continue to follow women even after they've exited the workforce.
What if we work for unequal pay?
It's no secret gender inequality still exists in today's workforce. Women earn significantly less than men and are less likely to have access to an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. These differences add up to less retirement income for women. On average, women 65 years and older rely on a median income of around $16,000 a year compared to nearly $28,000 for men, according to a Congressional analysis of 2012 Census data.
What if I get married and have kids?
Women also spend less time in the workforce and take on more family obligations than their male counterparts. While married women tend to do better in retirement, many elderly women are living on their own. Since women live longer than men, they face higher medical costs in retirement, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.
What if I can't afford retirement?
Disparities in pay and savings leave many women working past retirement age. However, many are wondering if they'll ever be able to retire. And if they do what if they can't maintain a decent standard of living?
This is a question 69-year-old Gaylord Weston of Belgrade, Maine often asks herself since she retired from her public sector job as an administrative worker. Her pension and Social Security benefits combined provide her with $1,700 a month along with a small inheritance from her mother.
But that money is tightly stretched as she pays for auto and homeowner's insurance, property taxes, a $6,000 annual heating bill and home repairs for her old farmhouse.
"I know I'm very fortunate. But if my car goes, if I need to put a new roof on the house or (buy) a new furnace for the house, these kinds of expenses would put me under the bridge," Weston told CNN.
What if there's a solution?
Efforts to address gender inequality (in retirement) received a boost recently in one state as lawmakers passed the Minnesota Women's Economic Security Act of 2014. This bold legislative package includes provisions to close the gender pay gap, expand family leave and sick leave, and study and create new private sector retirement savings models for workers.
Although the act hasn't been fully implemented yet, what if more states followed this model? And what if a similar bill were introduced in Congress?
Last week US Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) called on lawmakers to address retirement insecurity for women with an approach that considers all these factors.
"I think sometimes we don't connect all of the policies that we talk about today, that we think are so important, whether it is making sure you have childcare so that you can stay at work, whether it is pay equity, how that impacts your finances, both today and when you retire," said Murray.
What if our government took concrete steps to help women eliminate all of these "what ifs" that seem to define our working lives and prospects for a secure retirement? Let's work together to make that "what if" a reality!