August 2017

Statue of bear and bull

Impact of Stocks on Retirement System

U.S. stock market performance has implications for our entire retirement system – not just your 401(k).

Three studies addressing the big-picture relationships between the market and retirees’ financial security were produced in 2017 by the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog. Here are summaries of each one:

  • State and Local Pension Plan Funding Sputters in FY2016 – Public pension plan returns were very weak in fiscal year 2016. But even though stock market performance improved in 2017, it will be difficult to compensate for the plans’ funding shortfalls over the long-term: “To achieve more meaningful progress,” the researchers concluded, state and local governments “need to establish contribution levels that will actually reduce unfunded liabilities.”
  • How Will More Retirees Affect Investment Returns? – This interesting paper reviews the effect of the competing demographic forces driving investment returns. This is an extremely complex economic calculation, but the upshot is that our retirement accounts are receiving less interest and dividend income per dollar invested.
  • What are the Costs and Benefits of Social Security Investing in Equities? – Young adults are told to throw their 401(k) contributions into the stock market and forget about them for a few decades. That’s because stocks are riskier but generally outperform bonds. The Social Security Trust Fund, which currently invests only in bonds, is just another long-term investor, and projections show that its finances would also benefit from investing in stocks.

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Not All Good Jobs Require 4-Year College

The number of quality jobs held by workers with a two-year associate’s degree rocketed from 3.8 million in 1991 to 7 million in 2015.  Total employment over that time didn’t come close to that rate of growth.

“There are still good jobs out there for workers who don’t have a four-year degree,” explains the above video by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. These jobs, which require a bit more education and training than high school, typically pay $55,000 per year.

The video and accompanying report, released in late July, introduce a three-year project to document and analyze employment opportunities for people who do not want, or haven’t been able to obtain, a college degree. This blog will watch for the center’s future reports on this important topic. …Learn More

Young and old women hugging

Outsized Caregiving Duties for the Few

The value of the informal care provided to the nation’s elderly, often by adult children, exceeds $500 billion a year – more than double the price tag for the formal care of nursing homes and home health aides.

Only 6 percent of Americans are, at any given time, regularly helping parents who have deteriorating health or disabilities to perform their routine daily activities (and 17 percent will provide this care sometime during their lifetime). But a sliver of the population shoulders an inordinate amount of responsibility.

A study by Gal Wettstein and Alice Zulkarnain of the Center for Retirement Research finds that the
6 percent of adults providing parental care devote an average 77 hours to their duties each month, or roughly the equivalent of a full-time job for two weeks.

And the burden grows as adult offspring get older.  They found that 12 percent of 70-year-olds are caring for parents and spend, on average, 95 hours per month doing so, even though they’ve reached an age when they might be developing health issues of their own.  This remarkable situation is no doubt a result of both rising life expectancies for the elderly parents and improving health among their offspring, who are also aging but are nevertheless still able to provide care.

The study was based on data from a survey of older Americans that used the standard definition of care, which includes helping seniors with activities of daily living (known as ADLs), such as bathing, eating, and walking across a room, and includes instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), such as taking medications, cooking, and managing finances.

For the half of seniors over 85 who require this assistance, informal family care is their first choice. Not surprisingly, nearly two-thirds of this care is done by spouses and daughters, especially unmarried daughters. But there are costs, in terms of money and work, as well as time.  Caregivers report that they spend more than one-third of their budgets on parental care. …Learn More

Silhouette of white and black man

The U.S. Labor Participation Problem

The superlatives come fast and furious in the spate of reports coming out on the dwindling participation in the labor force by Americans still in their prime working years.

  • The fall in men’s participation in the United States has been going on for decades but has been steeper here than in all but two advanced economies (Israel and Italy) in recent years. “We have won the race to the bottom,” says Nicholas Eberstadt, an American Enterprise Institute scholar and author of “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis.”
  • A more recent drop in labor force participation for American women is “unique” – in the rest of the developed world, women’s participation continues to rise, according to a Brookings Institution report.
  • Men with no more than a high school degree make up 40 percent of workers but 60 percent of those who have dropped out of the U.S. labor force.
  • The decline in participation has been steepest among men without a high school education, particularly black men.

Economists count not only working people as being in the labor force but also people who are trying to find a job. Something is amiss when millions of Americans in their prime – between ages 25 and 54 – are doing neither, especially in a strong economy like the United States is experiencing now.

This issue is not new, but the election has brought it front and center. Also, the prolonged decline in men’s labor force participation had been partly masked by increasing women’s participation, which pulled up the aggregate figures. Now that women have begun withdrawing, the trend has become increasingly obvious – and ominous.

The Brookings and AEI scholars offer myriad, often overlapping, explanations for why this is happening: …Learn More

scales

Behind Asian-Americans’ Wealth Divide

wealth divide chartWhen it comes to wealth, Asian-Americans aren’t much different than whites. The typical household’s net worth is around $133,000 in each group, and about 10 percent have no wealth at all.

And like white America, Asian-American inequality is high and rising. Asian-Americans ranking in the top 10 percent (in terms of their wealth levels) have $1.45 million in savings and home equity – about 170 times more than those in the bottom 20 percent.  In the 1990s, the top 10 percent had 75 times more wealth.

Given this high concentration of wealth, “many Asian Americans, especially Asian American seniors who need to live off of their savings, live in an economically precarious situation,” according to a Center for American Progress study in December. The Urban Institute in a newer study concluded that “Asian American seniors are often left out of the national conversation on poverty.”

A deeper analysis reveals the dynamics at work in this rapidly growing and diverse socioeconomic group.

The timing of immigration is key to socioeconomic status. The Japanese, who came to this country in large numbers in the early 1900s, have had plenty of time to improve their lot. A new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, focused on the Los Angeles area, found that people of Japanese descent are, by far, the wealthiest segment of the Asian community there. Remarkably, the median household’s net worth approached $600,000 in 2014.

Immigration from Korea, by contrast, didn’t pick up steam until the 1980s and 1990s. Not surprisingly, the typical Korean household lags behind, with about $25,000 in wealth.  But that could be changing: one in five Koreans owns a business, the highest rate of business ownership for Asians in the Los Angeles area.

Inequality also emerges between generations in upwardly mobile Asian-American families. …
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Women Spending Fewer Years in Marriage

It took months for one girlfriend’s suitor to persuade her to get married. Another of my friends skipped marriage entirely and had two children on her own. Others married, had kids, and divorced, a status that seems unlikely to change for some as they age.  I married for the first time at 56.

These anecdotes, about a random group of baby boomer women in the Boston area, illustrate some of the ways that women over the past half century have dramatically reduced the time they spend as part of a married couple.

middle boomer marriage decline chartA new study being released today by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College finds that “middle boomer” women born in the late 1950s can expect to spend no more than half of their adult lives (starting at age 20) in marriage.  That share was closer to three-fourths for the mothers of baby boomers.

The researchers measured this dramatic change and its underlying causes – namely delayed wedlock, permanent singlehood, and divorce – across four cohorts of women who participated in a survey of older Americans.

Between the oldest group (born in 1931-41) and the youngest group (born in 1954-59), the average age of first marriage has increased by nearly three years, while the share of women who have never married tripled to 12 percent.  The share who’ve divorced also rose, from one-third to one half, according to the center, which sponsors this blog.

The change has been even starker for black women: the share of their adult lives spent in marriage declined from 54 percent of the oldest group to just 32 percent of middle boomers.  Divorce is a contributing factor, but the primary reason is that black women are much more likely to fall into the “not married” category than in the past.  In fact, the not married group is now larger than the married group.

This trend has many implications, not the least of which are financial. …
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Beach Reads for and about Old Folks

The Accomplished Guest coverCan't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?Die Laughing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who wants to spend their beach vacation reading about growing older? These recommendations just might surprise you.

“The Accomplished Guest” by Ann Beattie

Ann Beattie’s 1983 book of short stories, “The Burning House,” explored the drift, emotional detachment, and cynicism of boomers, whose worldview was darkened by Watergate. That book made Beattie’s reputation, and she has been prolific ever since, including regular appearances in The New Yorker.  Her 2017 short story volume, “The Accomplished Guest,” is, for now, a bookend to “The Burning House” (Beattie is only 69 and no doubt has more books in her). While baby boom skepticism remains a central theme, her characters have developed a little heart and sentimentality over the years. I particularly liked “Company,” about an older couple entertaining newlyweds at their Maine summer house (one advantage of getting older).  All night, Henry ruminates about his death.  But as this glorious summer evening draws to a close, he finds reason to celebrate his friendship with the much younger Jackson.  Jackson is still decades away from facing his own mortality, but tonight, they are “just two men – you know, any two men – passing time on the back porch.”

“Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” by Roz Chast  

For months, I ignored raving recommendations about Roz Chast’s book on how she navigated her parents’ old age. I should not have.  This book by the long-time New Yorker cartoonist is a poignant, laugh-out-loud funny examination of the guilt, love, memories, regrets, anger, and tenderness that churn inside adult children carrying their parents through the final stages of their lives. …Learn More

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