LGBT baby boomers face tough retirement hurdles

Jim Albaugh picks basil leaves to from a plant in his window while cooking dinner at the west side Manhattan apartment that he shares with two roommates in New York. Albaugh is among the thousands of gay and lesbian baby boomers confronting a retirement of greater financial hardship than his straight peers. Julie Jacobson, AP

Jim Albaugh picks basil leaves to from a plant in his window while cooking dinner at the west side Manhattan apartment that he shares with two roommates in New York. Albaugh is among the thousands of gay and lesbian baby boomers confronting a retirement of greater financial hardship than his straight peers. Julie Jacobson, AP

Jim Albaugh picks basil leaves to from a plant in his window while cooking dinner at the west side Manhattan apartment that he shares with two roommates in New York. Albaugh is among the thousands of gay and lesbian baby boomers confronting a retirement of greater financial hardship than his straight peers.

For Kathy Murphy, the difference between being gay or straight is $583 a month.

Retirement should have been a “slam dunk,” the 62-year-old Texas widow says. She saved, bought a house with her spouse and has a pension through her employer.

But Murphy’s golden years have not been as secure as they should have been. She is missing out on thousands of dollars a year in Social Security benefits simply because she was married to a woman, not a man.

Financial tips for same-sex couples

Gay and lesbian individuals are less prepared financially for retirement than their straight counterparts, according to an exclusive analysis by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

LGBT adults are likely to have less in retirement savings and have less access to Social Security benefits from spouses. They are also more likely to need long-term care because fewer have children to care for them as they age. Varying state laws also make it difficult for LGBT couples to plan for retirement.

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Murphy fell into a loophole in Social Security that denies survivor benefits to same-sex couples depending on what state they live in. Had Murphy and her wife, Sara Barker, lived next door in New Mexico, a state that does recognize same-sex marriage, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

“If I had been straight, getting widow’s benefits would have been a slam dunk,” Murphy says. “I never thought I would live to see same-sex marriage, but the government still minimizes my marriage and my relationship of 32 years.”

Murphy could be thought of as just one of the many baby boomers who are not prepared for retirement. But while the group overall is not ready to stop working, gay boomers face challenges that make them even more vulnerable, experts say.

For many, decades of workplace discrimination impaired their earning power. The AIDS crisis caused lasting financial and psychological damage, particularly for gay men. And legal pitfalls within Social Security, the cornerstone in any senior’s financial planning, have left gay boomers ill-equipped for retirement.

Same-sex couples in general are likely to have saved far less for retirement than their straight counterparts, according to an exclusive analysis of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The center is jointly operated by The Associated Press and NORC, a leading research center at the University of Chicago.

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The median retirement savings for a same-sex couple is roughly $66,000, while straight married couples have roughly $88,000, according to the data, which looks at the finances of straight and same-sex couples aged 19 to 95 going back to 2001.

This data, as well as other studies, show that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults tend to be poorer, in worse health, and most often, alone – with no family to care for them when they reach old age.

“In the aging world, there has been little regard for even the existence of LGBT older people, let alone their particular social and financial needs,” says Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE, a national organization focused on social services and advocacy for LGBT seniors.

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