BOSTON (CBS) – For many women their biggest fear is that they will be penniless and homeless in old age and not be able to afford food, shelter and medical care. They fear being a bag lady.

The Bag Lady Syndrome really does exist. A study done two years ago by Allianz Life (Women, Money & Power Study) found that almost 50% of women who are single, divorced, widowed or married, no matter what their income levels, have this same fear, including almost 30% with household earnings of more than $200,000 a year.

Several years ago I proclaimed the first week of October “National Bag Lady Week”. I thought we should draw attention to this matter. Congress has not caught on yet!

As a retiree, a woman will struggle to make ends meet on an average annual income of about $16,000 compared with over $29,000 for men. According to the Census Bureau, nearly one-in-five women who are living alone live in poverty.

During her lifetime the average woman will spend 17 years raising her children and 18 years caring for elderly parents and possibly her spouse. Her retirement income is also smaller because she probably did not receive a pension and was paid less over her lifetime than the average man.

Less than 1/3 of women will receive a pension as compared to 55% of men. Women are more likely to work part-time so often they are not eligible for a pension.

Most women receive lower Social Security benefits. They are the face of Social Security, comprising almost 60% of beneficiaries over age 62 and 70% of recipients over age 85.

For one third of the unmarried elderly women Social Security is their sole source of retirement income. The average monthly Social Security check for a woman is about $1,100 ($1,071). That’s over $300 ($312) a month less than that of the average man and over 20 years amounts to $75,000.

The numbers only get scarier! Seven out of ten “baby boomer” women are expected to outlive their husbands/partners. Many will be widows for 15 to 20 years.

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You can hear Dee Lee’s expert financial advice on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 each weekday at 1:55 p.m., 3:55 p.m., and 7:55 p.m.

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