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Free Retirement Savings Workshops for Oregon Women


Now that her divorce is settled, Karyn Kell, of Portland, knows that at 54, she must plan for retirement on her own. But she’s not sure where to turn.

“I talk to my sister. I listen to Suze Orman on TV. Aside from that, I don’t know where to go,” Kell said.

Her need-to-learn list includes how to maximize Social Security benefits, increase savings, address health care costs and find work after 19 years as a stay-at-home mom.

To educate women like Kell about retirement security, AARP Oregon is holding presentations on March 11, in Portland; March 12, in Salem; March 28, in Springfield; April 7, in Portland; and April 9, in Medford.

The presentations will focus on several areas: Social Security benefits, retirement savings accounts and the pluses and minuses of part-time work.

To get details and register, go to or call 866-554-5360.

Women in and out of the workforce face distinct challenges. They are three times as likely as men to say they can’t afford to save for retirement and in general they have lower rates of financial literacy, said Joyce DeMonnin, AARP Oregon communications director.

Most caregivers are women and are three times more likely than men to quit their job to look after a family member, she added.

Joanne Di Paola, asset building specialist at DevNW, an Oregon housing and financial counseling nonprofit, emphasizes that women should learn more about asset building and decision-making.

“I have worked with fixed- income widows and divorced women who, suddenly, are making the financial decisions,” Di Paola said. “In some cases they don’t know they’re eligible for their husband’s Social Security.”

A Social Security gap

According to the Social Security Administration, individual annual benefits for women averaged almost $3,700 less than those for men in 2017.

Based on lifetime earnings, Social Security distributes less to women because they spend fewer hours in the workforce, take time off for caregiving and receive lower wages.

Analysts say many women are looking for a crash course in financial planning after not dealing with these issues for years.

“The challenge is that women historically have not been at the table in investment conversations,” said Elena Fracchia, a wealth adviser at the Eugene branch of Columbia Bank. Fracchia will explore investing considerations at the AARP events.

Most part-time workers are women, including many caregivers. But those employed fewer than 20 hours weekly are generally ineligible for 401(k)s.

“Women’s nest eggs average half that of men’s, and two-thirds of seniors living in poverty are women,” DeMonnin said.

One way part-time workers can save is through OregonSaves, a statewide retirement program created in 2017 for those without an employer-based plan.

For Kell, a wariness about financial decisions set in after the Great Recession of 2008 battered her then-husband’s business, though he rebuilt it. She’s looking for reliable information.

The recession “made me realize things can change quickly,” Kell said. “You think you’re on solid ground and, suddenly, you’re not.”

Merry MacKinnon is a writer living in Portland.

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