Why the US can’t kick its addiction to Social Security numbers

One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

—J.R.R. Tolkien

David Haas doesn’t like to give out his Social Security number. He fends off all the requests he can, from doctors, credit card companies, the bureaucracy at large. In the end, it was summer camp that got him.

“If the camp refuses your child because you won’t divulge your Social Security number, you end up giving in,” said the Franklin Lakes, N.J., financial planner. Haas kind of caved to his daughter’s school, too.

Don’t be too hard on him. It is the number that rules us all.

Social Security numbers, which identify the retirement accounts Americans build up over a lifetime of paycheck deductions, are taken in the vast majority of data breaches, simply because they are ubiquitous. They’re a juicy target. Together with other basic information, like name and date of birth, the Social Security number is a passport to a person’s identity. Unlike a credit card number, which can be instantly canceled, the SSN serves most people for their entire lives, with some 496 million issued since the first batch of cards went out in 1936. Its use as authentication for personal accounts has expanded the opportunity for fraud.

The government has tried to lessen our dependence on the Social Security number as the ultimate identifier and authenticator—for example, some states ask for a driver’s license or state ID on income tax forms. Within its own ranks, the federal government is locked in a struggle to reduce the “unnecessary collection, use and display” of the number. In 2007, a presidential task force issued recommendations to “help prevent the theft and misuse of consumer’s personal information.” A decade later, on May 23, the Government Accountability Office testified about a GAO progress report on executive branch efforts to address the recommendations. The verdict: “These initiatives have had limited success.”

Among the initiatives was a proposed “alternative federal employee identifier” on Office of Personnel Management forms. That was abandoned as impractical “without an alternate governmentwide employee identifier in place.”

An estimated 17.6 million people, or some 7 percent of American residents 16 or older, suffered at least one instance of identity theft in 2014, the latest year of data available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. And that was before mega-breaches like the one at the health insurer Anthem and at the Office of Personnel Management itself.

“We are bleeding fraud with the use of SSNs ,” said Eva Velasquez, chief executive officer of the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center , which helps victims of identity theft.

Attempts to check the SSN’s proliferation have been failing for nearly half a century. As early as 1971, a Social Security Administration task force proposed that the agency take a ” ‘cautious and conservative position’ toward SSN use and do nothing to promote the use of the SSN as an identifier,” according to The Story of the Social Security Number, on the agency’s web site. No luck.

How about fingerprints? Government agencies including the Veterans Administration and the Post Office have tried them, but they came with the whiff of criminality. The bald string of numbers seemed the more practical way to go.

In its early days, the SSN wasn’t widely treated as sacrosanct.  In 1938, a wallet manufacturer in New York, which wanted to advertise how well those new Social Security cards fit into its billfold, used the actual number of its treasurer’s secretary, one Mrs. Hilda Schrader Whitcher. Mrs. Whitcher’s secret identifier (078-05-1120) was soon on display at Woolworth and other department stores around the country.

By 1943, nearly 6,000 people were using her number, according to the Social Security Administration, which voided it. Over the years, more than 40,000 people claimed the number as their own, and 12 people were found to be using it as late as 1977.

“They started using the number. They thought it was their own,” the real 078-05-1120 said, according to a history on the Social Security Administration web site. “I can’t understand how people can be so stupid.”

Since then, many companies and government agencies, while using SSNs internally, have at least stopped displaying them on ID cards and using them as subscriber numbers. Many use unique numbers, sent to a recognized device such as a cellphone, in place of the familiar request for the last four digits of the Social.  Some have suggested creating individual encryption keys, sort of like the code-generating tokens that workers use to access their computers from outside the office. Another idea, a national identification card, “creeps people out, because it seems very Orwellian,” Velasquez said.

Even creepier, she said, one frustrated consumer proposed that the government “just microchip me so you can scan me and thieves can’t dig it out of me.”

Until we all get chipped, the only person who can sharply curb the use of your Social Security number is you.

“Don’t blindly provide it because you’re asked for it,” said Gary Davis, chief consumer security evangelist for anti-virus software provider McAfee.

The tricky part is that you can be denied service. The Social Security Administration recommends asking why the number is needed, how it will be used, what will happen if you refuse to give it, and what law requires you to give the number to a private business. For example, there’s no legal reason you must give it to your doctor. Doctors almost always ask for it, though, sometimes because they’re using outdated forms, or for patients on Medicare, since your Medicare number is your Social Security number.

On income tax forms and financial accounts that wend their way to the Treasury Department, the ritual asking for and giving of the Social Security number is all but inevitable. Same with food stamps, child support enforcement programs, and state commercial driver licensing programs. Credit bureau TransUnion says the nine-digit wonder is indispensable.

“We consider the SSN to be an important part of the consumer reporting and credit granting ecosystem, and many regulators and consumer advocates recommend this approach, where available, for accurate matching,” TransUnion spokesman Dave Blumberg said in an email. “The SSN is also an important tool in identity verification and can help lenders to detect and prevent identity theft.”

Opening a bank or brokerage account requires a customer identification number, most likely a Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identity Number, according to anti-money-laundering provisions in the Patriot Act, the security law passed after the 2001 terror attacks. An auto insurer might demand the Social to ensure, say, that the credit information for an applicant is really for the driver operating the vehicle. Life insurers want it because it’s a good way to find a “lost” policyholder, or find out if the policyholder has died, by consulting the Social Security Master Death File, said Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute. An SSN can also help find beneficiaries, she said.

Still, if in doubt, ask:  Why do you need it? How will you use it? Do I really have to give it?

New Medicare cards are going out without the SSN on them, but for those over 65 the number is sitting in their wallet. Medicare has until April 2019 to comply with a 2015 law requiring it to create a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier. An MBI generator will initially assign 150 million new 11-character identifiers made up of numbers and capital letters. Hassle alert: The transition will run from April 1, 2018, through December 31, 2019, the Medicare web site says. Medicare notes that the MBIs “will not contain inappropriate combinations of numbers or strings that may be offensive.” Because, of course, that’s our big worry.

The Social Security Administration is taking action, too. On June 10, Americans will need to turn on multi-factor authentication on their My Social Security accounts, which have been targeted by thieves setting up accounts using stolen SSNs to collect benefits.

As for Haas’s kids, or, more to the point, yours, the American Camp Association says it doesn’t require member camps to gather SSNs. But browsing through camp applications online, one finds the camper’s Social, or its last four digits, in demand on camp financial aid forms, authorization forms for medical emergencies, and so forth, sometimes accompanied by a promise to destroy the documents at the end of the season.

Will the U.S. ever break its addiction to the Social Security number? The Office of Personnel Management did begin exploring the use of “multiple alternate identifiers for different programs and agencies” in 2015, the GAO report said. The idea was to collect a Social Security number just once, when an employee started working, and then use different identifiers for different programs, like health-care benefits. The work was put on hold for lack of funding.

Some fear we’re just going to come up with another unique identifier that can be compromised, said Velasquez, of the Identity Theft Resource Center. But she’s hoping something will happen in her lifetime. She’s 45.

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Two-thirds of Americans are worried about their financial future

Though many workers look forward to retirement, it can also be a scary prospect. For the first time in your life, you’ll go from earning a steady paycheck to relying on Social Security and, ideally, your savings to make ends meet. But while retirement should be a welcome change in theory, a growing number of Americans are more concerned about it than anything else.

In a newly released study by Country Financial, 67% of Americans say they’re worried about their financial future. Many, in fact, fear they won’t actually manage to retire at all given their financial circumstances.

It’s data that’s far from shocking. The Economic Policy Institute reports that nearly half of Americans have no retirement savings at all, and more than 50% of those surveyed admit that they don’t actually include retirement when mapping out their financial goals.

Why does retirement so frequently get pushed to the back burner? Often, workers have no choice but to focus on more pressing priorities, like managing their short-term bills. In the aforementioned study, 44% of respondents said they’re more focused on finding ways to deal with unplanned expenses than retirement. Meanwhile, 41% are more fixated on dealing with their healthcare costs.

Now it’s true that you can’t ignore your immediate obligations just to save for retirement. After all, if your roof collapses to the tune of a $5,000 repair or you’re hit with a $5,000 medical bill, you can’t just ignore those expenses in order to stick that money in your IRA or 401(k). That said, many workers can do better when it comes to saving for retirement. It’s just a matter of getting their priorities straight.

There’s more room for savings than you think

A large number of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and spend every last penny they earn on their day-to-day expenses. But not everyone who lives this way actually has to. While there are countless Americans working multiple jobs and still living below the poverty line, others who aren’t saving do have the ability to change their ways — if they’re willing to make sacrifices.

How do you know which category you fall into? It’s simple. Take a look at your budget and see if there’s anything you’re currently spending money on that you don’t actually need. Your cable package, for example, is a reasonable thing to want, but you don’t actually need it the same way you need food, housing, and a means of getting to and from work.

Once you’ve identified those nonessentials, you’ll need to work on eliminating at least some of them. Will it be easy or pleasant? Probably not. But if you don’t start finding ways to put money aside for retirement, you’ll risk having inadequate income at a time in your life when you’re older and far more vulnerable. Or, worse yet, you’ll join the ranks of people who never actually manage to retire at all.

Small savings can go a long way

Another reason so many people don’t save for retirement is that the idea just seems daunting. After all, if you’re already living paycheck to paycheck, whether by choice or out of necessity, how on earth are you supposed to come up with, say, a $200,000 nest egg?

Here’s the thing, though: If you’re willing to put a small amount of money aside each month, and you invest that money wisely, you can turn a series of minor contributions into something major over time. It’s a concept known as compounding, and it basically means earning interest on top of interest so that your savings keep growing.

Say you’re able to save $100 a month for 30 years but not a penny more. If you were to take that money and put it in a checking account paying no interest, you’d have just $36,000 in time for retirement (which, incidentally, is more than what many near-retirees have but still not enough). On the other hand, if you were to invest that money at an average annual 7% return, which is actually a couple of points below the stock market’s average, you’d end up with roughly $113,000 — a far more comforting number. In fact, if you were to somehow manage to sock away $500 a month for 30 years and generate that same return, you’d have well over $500,000 to work with in retirement.

Nobody ever said that saving for retirement would be easy, but rather than spend your time worrying about your financial future, you can, and should, take steps to fix it. Attaining financial security in retirement often boils down to living below your means during your working years and being vigilant about saving. And if you’re willing to make the effort, you may come to change your outlook to one that’s far less bleak.

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Why millionaires are more afraid than ever nearly 40%

Millionaire confidence plunged by a record amount in May, sparked by fears of government dysfunction in Washington, D.C.

The Spectrem Millionaire Investor Confidence Index, a measure of millionaire confidence in the economy and markets, fell 17 points from April. That’s the biggest month-to-month drop ever recorded by Spectrem Group, a Chicago-based wealth-research firm that created the index.

The survey found that almost four in ten (39 percent) of millionaires plan to avoid investing in the coming month — the highest percentage since December 2013.

The main reason for the drop: politics and the turmoil surrounding the Trump Administration.

The top concern cited by the millionaires surveyed was the political environment.

“Even though the stock market remains at near-record high levels, millionaire investors are becoming increasingly cautious,” said Spectrem President George H. Walper Jr. “This is likely due to growing concerns about the weakening political position of President Trump given recent controversies, the declining likelihood of substantive tax reform in the near-term, as well as concerns about the recently submitted proposed federal budget.”

“Although non-millionaires also recorded a drop in confidence, the fact they are slightly more confident now than millionaires is a strong indication that we may be entering a tumultuous period for investors,” Walper said.

The political pessimism among millionaires is not being driven by Democrats, which would be predictable. The largest drop in the survey came among Republican millionaires.

“The Republican millionaires may believe they delivered the House, Senate and Presidency and still nothing is getting done, which ultimately may impact their economic views. They are worried that government dysfunction, which they identify as the most significant threat to the economy, could jeopardize both health care and the important tax cuts that may be fueling part of the stock market surge,” he said.

Of course, the stock market has continued to rally in recent weeks, which doesn’t suggest a panic among millionaires. And the survey is just a one-month snapshot.

But since millionaires own the bulk of the stocks and financial assets in the U.S., their fear could put a damper on stock-market growth in the coming weeks and months.

The Spectrem Millionaire Index measures the investment sentiment of households with $1 million or more in investible assets. The research was conducted between May 19 and May 23.

7 stupid things people do with their money that feel smart at the time

We’ve all made mistakes with our money. While some are knowingly reckless — say, an expensive night at the casino or going into debt to buy a fancy car you can’t quite afford — others are less obvious.

For instance, not getting a credit card because you’re scared of overspending and ending up in debt sounds like a responsible move — until you want to buy a car or a house and have no credit to back you up.

Below, Business Insider breaks down a handful of bad money moves to avoid that may feel smart at the time.

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Dipping into your 401(k) early to buy a house or pay off debt.

There may come a time when you consider cashing out part of your 401(k) for a short-term goal that feels more pressing than retirement — like buying your dream house or paying off lingering credit card debt.

Don’t be fooled: A 401(k) may seem like just another vehicle for saving money, but the rules are far different than a traditional savings account. To start, money pulled out before age 59 and a half is subject to an early withdrawal penalty and will be taxed as regular income (you can calculate the specific cost of early withdrawal using a tool like this one from Wells Fargo).

One of the greatest advantages of a 401(k) is its ability to generate tax-free compound interest— the multiplying effect of earning interest on top of the money you’ve already earned interest from — over the long haul. Take your money out early and you’ll lose a bulk of savings.

A better option if you have retirement savings and you’re truly strapped for cash? Take money out of your Roth IRA, which has much more flexibility for tax and penalty-free early withdrawals.

Taking out a ton of student loans to go to school.

The number of Americans taking out student loans to finance college is steadily rising. While a good education can lead to a higher salary, taking on loads of debt to get there isn’t always a smart move.

Many people don’t grasp the full scope of a student loan beyond college, including how interest rates work and how long it realistically takes to repay the loan. The average borrower has a $351 monthly payment, a sizable recurring expense for a new college graduate on an entry-level salary.

In short, student loan payments could inhibit you from reaching other important financial goals. Before you sign on the dotted line, consider the ROI of the degree you want to pursue and what other options are available, like scholarships, grants, or even community college.

Not getting a credit card.

As a 20-year-old, credit cards scared me. They seemed like free money and I thought spending with them would ruin my financial stability, even though I paid my bill in full every month.

In fact, the opposite is true. If I ever wanted to buy a car or a house, I’d need credit.

“A lot of people these days check credit scores as some sort of measure of how responsible a human being you are,” says financial expert Jean Chatzky, host of the “HerMoney” podcast and financial editor at the Today Show, in a video with Business Insider’s Graham Flanagan, who is 34 and doesn’t have a credit card. “It’s possible to have a good credit score without a credit card, but it’s easier if you do have one.”

But having a credit card doesn’t mean you need to use it all the time, Chatzky said: “That’s sort of the secret.” Spend only what you can afford to pay back, and you’ll build solid credit.

Being conservative with your investments in your 20s.

Being conservative with your investments in your 20s.

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Millennials aren’t investing in the stock market, largely because they’re scared they don’t have enough money, or the knowledge to make the right investments.

“No one can time the market, so know that if there is a decline, it’s going to bounce back. Over time, being in the market pays off more so than staying out of it,” Michael Solari, a certified financial planner with Solari Financial Planning, told Business Insider.

In short: A risky investment when you’re young has time to correct itself. Try a target date retirement fund, sometimes known as “set it and forget it” investments, which adjust their asset allocation and risk exposure based on your age and retirement horizon. Early on, when the need for that money is still a couple decades away, the fund will adopt a more growth-focused strategy. As you ripen toward retirement, it dials back the risk.

You may not get the average annual return of 11% in your target date fund — given you’ll be invested in a blend of stocks, bonds, and alternative assets — but if you get even 6% per year, an original $10,000 investment will be worth more than $32,000 in 20 years without you having to do a single thing. Compare that with $12,200 in your high-yield savings account or $10,020.20 in your traditional savings account.

 

Paying someone to actively manage your investments.

Though it may seem intimidating, investing is anyone’s game. You don’t have to be a stock-picking genius or a earn a massive paycheck to make great returns over the long term — and you certainly don’t need to pay someone to do it for you.

In fact, according to John C. Bogle, the legendary founder and former CEO of the Vanguard Mutual Fund Group, the best way for the average person to make money in the market is to invest in passive index funds.

The “classic index fund,” which he defines as holding many, many stocks, and operating with minimal expenses and high tax efficiency, works for two main reasons: They’re broadly diversified, which eliminates individual stock risk, and they’re low cost.

“It is a simple concept that guarantees you will win the investment game played by most other investors who — as a group — are guaranteed to lose,” Bogle writes in his book “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.”

You can start by opening an account online with Bogle’s company, Vanguard, and investing in their index mutual funds, which charge relatively low fees for investing directly (an average of 0.13%).

 

Buying a house because it seems like a “good investment.”

Buying a house because it seems like a "good investment."

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Homeownership shouldn’t be taken lightly. At the end of the day, buying a home isn’t a means of getting rich. That is, unless you’ve done your due diligence and are buying a property specifically as an investment that will eventually become a source of income.

“When you look at the average price increase of a home across the country over the last 100 years, it’s only about 3%,” Eric Roberge, CFP and founder of Beyond Your Hammock, told Business Insider. “If you take away extra costs plus inflation, you’re not really making any money on average on a single family home.”

It’s smarter to look for an affordable house that meets non-monetary goals: It’s in your dream neighborhood or it’s a good place to start a family.

“A home is a utility, not an investment,” Roberge says.

Keeping all of your money in a traditional savings account.

If you’re part of the 30% of Americans saving money, way to go! Putting that money into a run-of-the-mill savings account may feel like the obvious move, but there’s actually a better option: high-yield savings.

Mary Beth Storjohann, a certified financial planner who founded Workable Wealth, recommends capping your personal savings once you have enough to cover at least six months’ worth of expenses, also known as as an emergency fund. Then move any overflow savings into a high-yield savings account, where you could earn 1% interest on your money, rather than the 0.01% earned in a traditional savings account.

Another great option is to put your savings in a low-cost target date fund. Though the market is impossible to predict, you’re still going to get a better return on the money there than you would in a plain old savings account, with little to no work required.

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The Truth About How Often You Should Wash Your Hair

The Truth About How Often You Should Wash Your Hair: This is how often you should really be washing your hair© Photoalto/Fredrick Cirou/Getty Images This is how often you should really be washing your hairIt’s the age-old question: How often should you wash your hair, really? Back in the day, we wouldn’t dream of going a whole 24 hours without some shampoo, but then we started hearing that it is bad to wash your hair every day — and there are even people out there who can make their blow-out last a whole week. So what’s the deal?

We’ve always known we need to wash our hair regularly, but it’s so hard to decipher what “regularly” actually means. We consulted hair experts for the ultimate hair-washing intel.

Hair type matters

Is there a good rule of thumb for the magic number of days you can go without washing your hair? Really, it depends on your hair type. Hair that’s thicker and curlier can go without a wash for longer than hair that is fine. How processed your hair is will also come into play, because the oils in your scalp don’t travel down the hair shaft as quickly in hair that’s coarse, curly or processed as it does for gals with fine hair, says Marlene Montanez of Latest-Hairstyles.

For this reason, curly hair types should especially be careful not to wash hair too frequently — and avoid shampoos with harsh sulfates, which strip the hair of the natural oils. You can consider a co-wash (using a conditioner instead of shampoo) or use a sulfate-free shampoo if washing more than twice a week, says Jane Nyachiro of hair brand Jirano.

Lifestyle also plays a part. For example, if you workout daily, you’re going to need to wash your hair more often to feel clean after sweating. If you have an oily scalp and thin, fine hair, your hair will start to look flat and dirty after 24 hours. If your hair is pin-straight, an oily scalp will show more easily too. The flip side is with thick, curly hair, you may be able to go three days without needing a shampoo.

There can be too much of a good thing

It’s pretty simple: Washing hair every day removes our natural oils and proteins, causing our hair to dry out quicker. Shampoo strips the oils from the hair, and we need those oils to help our scalp and hair to be healthy, says Emily Woodstrom of Hairitage ‘Hous outside St. Paul, Minnesota.

Some people shampoo so frequently and strip the natural oil in their hair so much that it becomes very frizzy — and there day-after hair actually looks better when oil has accumulated on the scalp to tame these wild hair shafts, says Dr. Scott Rackett, a dermatologist and hair care expert. Often, we apply product to calm the hair, when really just shampooing less frequently would improve the look of the hair and lessen the need for hair products.

Beauty Hack: Add Sugar to Your Shampoo for Perfect Hair

Find your perfect cocktail

The trick is to find a shampoo, conditioner and a cocktail of products that balances your scalp and hair so you can wash every third or fifth day. “If one has hair on the finer side, I’ll recommend a volumizing shampoo so it remains light and won’t get greasy too fast. Transversely, if a client comes to me with coarse, dry, thick hair, I’ll recommend something that will moisturize and balance the scalp and hair. It’s a bit of a trial and error thing.

Work with your stylist to make sure you get what will work for you,” says Max Gierl, senior stylist at Mizu New York salon. “The No. 1 thing I tell all my clients is to keep conditioner off the scalp completely. Conditioner can make the scalp oily, which only makes your roots seem greasy faster. The scalp should produce enough sebum to properly maintain scalp health.”

At most, try washing your hair every other day. Every two days is even better, and if you can make it an entire week, go for it! If your hair gets oily after only a day, try using some hair powder or dry shampoo on your roots to soak up some of that excess oil. There are also tons of products on the market for in-between wash days that will help your hair get some extra lift and smell fresh. After the gym, try spritzing a refreshing mist or do a rinse sans shampoo. If you must wash and shampoo each time after a workout, try a shampoo that’s made for daily cleansing — they’re usually less harsh on your hair.

Single workers aren’t there to pick up the slack for their married bosses and colleagues

Single workers aren’t there to pick up the slack for their married bosses and colleagues

May 25, 2017

There are a lot of misconceptions about single people in the modern-day workplace. A former employer once brushed me off when I raised the issue of salary, telling me that because I was a single person with no children, my concerns couldn’t really be about money—after all, I had no one else to support.

Or consider the reaction of former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell when Janet Napolitano received the nomination for secretary of homeland security in 2008. “Janet’s perfect for the job,” Rendell said. “Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19, 20 hours a day to it.”

Too often, employers believe that single, childless people are emotionally untethered and financially untroubled, which means they ought to be free to stay late, travel on weekends, show up on holidays, and take whatever vacation slots married employees haven’t already claimed—all of which puts singles in a highly unfair (not to mention undesirable) position. It’s time that employers stopped taking advantage of single employees—and started recognizing the truth about their lives.

Single people have important ties to friends, family, and community

Negative stereotypes about single people hold that they are isolated, lonely, and focused only on themselves—perfect candidates to come in to work, or to stay there, when no one else wants to. But research shows otherwise.

In fact, single people do more to maintain their relationships with their friends, neighbors, siblings, and parents than married people. They are better at staying in touch with them, and helping and encouraging them. It is different for couples who move in together or get married. They tend to become more insular, even if they don’t have children.

When aging parents need help, they get it disproportionately from their grown children who are single. That’s true whether they are black or white, and whether their offspring are sons or daughters. Single people are also more likely to be there for people who are disabled or seriously ill and need sustained help, even when the people needing the help are not relatives.

Single people are rooted in their communities and towns in significant ways. They participate in public events more often, and take more music and art classes. They volunteer more than married people do for a wide variety of organizations.

When the workday ends, when the weekend is in sight, when holidays roll around, and when it is time to plan vacations, singles often have people in their lives they want to see—people who care about them, depend on them, and feel like family, even if they are not family in the traditional sense.

Meanwhile, some single people look forward to savoring their solitude. Some have interests and commitments they pursue with a passion. As a group, single people vary enormously, but they have one thing in common: They all have a life outside of work. They want the same opportunity as everyone else to do as they wish when they are—or should be—off the clock.

Workplaces should ensure that fairness. Over time, assignments to stay late or cover holidays or accept the less desirable vacation times should even out, so that single people are not singled out.

Ideally, only in special circumstances should employees be asked to justify their requests to take time off. Otherwise, in a culture that still celebrates married people and their families and remains skeptical of single people and the important people in their lives, single people may be treated unfairly. For example, employers may be tempted to take more seriously a request to take time off to care for an ailing spouse than an ailing sibling or close friend.

Already, though, single people are at a disadvantage when they want to provide care for others or receive it themselves. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, anyone in an eligible workplace, regardless of marital status, can take unpaid leave to care for a parent or child. Married people, though, can also take time off to care for their spouse. Single people are not covered to care for a similarly important person in their lives, nor can such a person take time to care for them.

When workers need to be relocated, some single people may be happy to get the nod. Others, though, may see that as a special hardship. They include single people who are rooted in their communities, who have developed and nurtured networks of friends and neighbors, and who have relatives they are helping. They also include singles who chose their cities and towns for their cultural offerings, diversity, bike trails, or football teams, and do not want to move to places that have no such things.

The financial fragility of people who are single

Years before my employer mindlessly presumed that I had no one to support, my mother was widowed. But he never stopped to consider whether she needed my financial support. Other single people are providing support in other ways—for example, quietly accumulating college funds for their nieces and nephews, or welcoming them into their homes when times are tough.

When single people are caring for their parents and others who need their help, they do so at greater economic risk than married people are. If they put in fewer hours at work, or step away from their jobs, they do not have a spouse to pick up the financial slack—or keep them on their employer-sponsored health insurance. Similarly, when single people get laid off or lose their jobs, they are particularly vulnerable for the same reasons.

Single people who live alone lose out on economies of scale. They don’t get to split their rent or mortgage, their utilities, or any other household expenses with another person. Single people also miss out on all the offers that are cheaper by the couple, from health-club memberships and travel packages to discounts on insurance.

Even more significantly, single people are excluded from more than 1,000 federal laws that benefit and protect only people who are legally married. For example, single people are subject to more taxes and penalties on IRAs and estate transfers. They get less financial flexibility and security from Social Security. When lifelong single people die, they cannot leave their benefits to anyone else—they go back into the system—and no one else can leave their benefits to a single person either.

A study that included only women showed that by the time they are nearing retirement age, lifelong single women have far less net wealth than married women. The disparity is even bigger for black women than white women.

Single men (though not single women) are paid less than their married counterparts. Even when single and married men have the same level of seniority and competence, and even when they are identical twins, married men are paid substantially more. Nonetheless, single men are no less generous than married men in the money they give to relatives, and more generous in the money they give to friends.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently released income tax rates for 35 member countries, for single people with no children and one-earner couples with two children. In most nations, including the US, single people are taxed more than the couples. The disparity is greater in the US than it is in all but one of the other 34 nations.

Financial disadvantages in taxation, Social Security, health spending, and housing expenses add up. By one estimate, single women, relative to married women, lose out on somewhere between a half million and a million dollars over the course of their adult lives.

The real reasons you should value your single workers

Single workers shouldn’t be saddled with lower salaries or extra hours just because they’re single—they have plenty of more valuable attributes to offer employers, based on their life experiences.

Do you want workers who can get things done, either by doing the tasks themselves or recruiting others to help? Single people—especially those who live alone—have spent a lifetime honing those skills. Unlike married people who often divide the tasks of everyday life and master only the ones for which they are responsible, single people figure out how to get all of them done.

Do you want workers who have the confidence to stand by their own opinions, even when groupthink is headed in a different direction? Research suggests that single people are better at that.

Do you want workers who are committed not just to their jobs but to their organizations or professions? A study that included only men suggests that singles are the employees for you. For example, single men participate more than married men do in professional societies, unions, and farm organizations.

Do you want workers who are constantly learning and growing? That, too, is more likely to describe lifelong single people than people who get married.

Do you want workers who show up primarily for the paycheck and other concrete benefits, or people who have landed in your workplace because they find the work meaningful? If it is the latter, you probably want workers who are single. Research shows that people who stay single value meaningful work more than people who marry, and that they were already expressing those values in high school, before anyone was getting hitched.

How to make your workplace equally welcoming, friendly, and fair to all your workers

I love living single and I have chosen not to have children. Because these are not fraught issues for me, I can feel genuine joy for people who have followed the alternative paths of marriage and children. I’m happy to congratulate them, maybe even celebrate them—but not on company time.

Workplace celebrations of employees who are engaged or about to parent a child may be motivated by the kindest of sentiments, but they are painful to those who only wish they had such experiences. They are also unfair, and do not belong in the workplace. The inappropriateness is compounded when employees are pressured into offering gifts to the newlyweds or parents. The workplace should be about work. Any celebrations should be limited to occasions everyone experiences, such as birthdays, or just to work-related accomplishments. Of course, coworkers who are friends can celebrate whatever they like, on their own time, in venues outside of the workplace.

Financial favoritism is even more troubling. Last year, the CEO of Boxed enjoyed an avalanche of adulatory publicity when he offered to pay for his employees’ weddings. Other employers offer other rewards that have nothing to do with job performance, and that unfairly advantage married people or parents over everyone else. They include, for example, offers to help with the college tuition of the children of employees, to cover the moving expenses of a spouse, and, more commonly, the option to include a spouse on a health care plan at a reduced rate.

I’m all in favor of employer generosity. But beyond bonuses that are tied to work-related accomplishments, such largesse should be equally distributed. Cafeteria plans are one option: all workers are entitled to the same dollar amount in benefits, and they can choose the ones they want.

The rise of single people is a national and international phenomenon. In the US, for example, in 1970, only 28% of adults 18 and older were not married. Now, nearly half (45%) are unmarried. Americans now spend more years of their adult lives not married than married. These trends are showing no signs of reversing. Workplaces need to adapt to a workforce that is increasingly unmarried. Fortunately, workers who are single are contributing more than we ever knew.