Illustration of the future

Money Culture

The Future of Retirement Is Now

Gray, small, and distinctly female.

This is what the director of MIT’s AgeLab, Joseph Coughlin, sees when he peers into the future of retirement.

“The context and definition of retirement is changing,” Coughlin said earlier this month at the Retirement Research Consortium meeting, where nearly two dozen researchers also presented their Consortium-funded work on a range of retirement topics. Their research summaries can be found at this link to the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog and is a consortium member.

Coughlin spooled out a list of stunning facts to impress on his audience the dramatic impact of rising longevity and graying populations in the developed world, and he urged them to think in fresh ways about retirement. In Japan, for example, adult diapers are outselling baby diapers. China already faces a looming worker shortage, and Germany’s population is in sharp decline. In 2047, there will be more Americans over age 60 than children under 15.

“The country will have the demographics of Florida,” Coughlin said. …Learn More

Field Work

Health in Old Age: the Great Unknown

cartoonThis cartoon, by Vancouver Sun cartoonist Graham Harrop, hits on one of retirees’ biggest mysteries: their future health.

The elderly live with the anxiety of getting a grave illness that isn’t easy to fix, such as cancer or a stroke.  And despite having Medicare insurance, they also have to worry how much it would cost them and whether they would run through all of their savings.

They’re right to worry. Health care costs increase as people age from their 50s into their 60s and 70s. About one in five baby boomers between 55 and 64 pays extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses in any given year. But by 75, the odds increase to one in four, according to a report summarizing the reasons that some seniors’ finances become fragile.

Large, unexpected medical expenses are one of two major financial shocks that threaten their security – widowhood is the other. A small and unlucky share of retirees will find it difficult to absorb a spike in their medical costs, forcing them to cut back on food or medications, the report said.

Harrop’s cartoon is the product of his cousin’s inspired suggestion that he fill a book with cartoons about the humorous accommodations made between couples who’ve lived together for decades. The book – “Living Together after Retirement: or, There’s a Spouse in the House” – reveals his personal knowledge of the subject. Harrop, who is 73, has lived with his partner, Annie, for more than 20 years.Learn More

Money Culture

Medicaid Now Critical to Aging Workers

For decades, the Medicaid program has subsidized health care for the poor, including retirees.

Yet, until recently, it largely excluded most working-age adults without disabilities due to a strict monthly income limit.

medicaid logoAll that changed in the 32 states and the District of Columbia that accepted the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) option to expand their Medicaid coverage to low-income working people.

In 2010, the ACA increased Medicaid’s income limits for people to qualify for the insurance. Today, working baby boomers, as well as younger workers, can qualify if their income is below 138% of federal poverty levels – or $1,396 per month for a single person and $1,892 for couples.

This joint federal-state program now completely or partially insures about one in six people approaching retirement age, according to a new report citing U.S. Census Bureau data.

The expansion is at least partly responsible for a striking improvement in one statistic: the uninsured rate for adults between ages 50 and 64 fell from 15.5 percent in 2012 to 9.1 percent in 2016. …Learn More

inequality

Money Culture

Why Retirement Inequality is Rising

Just as the wealth and income gap between the well-to-do and working people is growing, so, too is retirement inequality.

tableResearchers increasingly want to know what’s behind this phenomenon. They’ve uncovered reasons ranging from low-income workers’ greater difficulty saving to the well-to-do’s longer life spans – which means they’ll get more out of their Social Security benefits.

Having a low income doesn’t necessarily mean a retiree can’t live comfortably. What matters is how much of their earnings they will be able to replace with Social Security and any savings.

Even by this standard, lower-income workers come up short: 56 percent are at risk of having a lower standard of living when they retire. The decline is slightly less for middle-income workers – 54 percent – but the risks fall sharply, to 41 percent, for the people at the top.

The roots of this inequality span Americans’ lives from cradle to grave:

  • In our 401(k) system, financial security in retirement increasingly hinges on how much people can save in their 401(k)s as they work. But it’s harder for low-income workers to save, mainly because their employers are less likely to offer a savings plan, according to a 2017 study by The New School for Social Research. The study also found that basic living expenses gobble up more of their paychecks, and they experience more financial disruptions from layoffs and divorce, leaving less for savings.
  • Some research assesses inequality trends for specific groups of people.  Incomes tend to rise over time, even after being adjusted for inflation, but they rise more slowly for people near the bottom of the earnings scale. Lower earnings translate later to lower retirement incomes.  For example, the future retirement income of well-heeled members of Generation X, relative to today’s retirees in the high-income bracket, is estimated to be two times more than it will be for low-income Gen-X retirees, according to an Urban Institute study. …
  • Learn More

Research

Future Retirees Financially Fragile

Retirement contributionsThe scary thing about fully retiring is the obvious thing: the ability to earn stops cold.

Most retirees live on what they get from Social Security and what they can spend from their savings, if they have any.  So how many older Americans with fixed incomes can accurately be described as being in difficult straits financially?

Only about 10 percent of retired people today are being forced to cut back on food and medications to pay their other bills, concludes a summary of recent studies on retirement income by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR), which supports this blog.

Tomorrow’s retirees have a more troubling outlook, in part because they will be dramatically more reliant on 401(k)s.

The typical middle-income worker in Generation X, who ranges in age from 37 to 53, can expect his savings to supply 42 percent of his total income when he retires.  Savings are necessary for just 27 percent of the total income of current retirees born during the Great Depression and World War II, according to one of the studies summarized by CRR and conducted by the Urban Institute and U.S. Social Security Administration. …Learn More

older workers

Behavior

Future ‘Retirees’ Plan to Work

Most people used to sign up for Social Security when they were fairly young – around 62, which is the earliest age allowed. Not today: fewer than 40 percent are filing for benefits at that age.

text box calloutSo what else are we doing differently?  Well, working in retirement is high on the list.

About one in three Americans calling themselves retired in a new AARP survey have worked or now work in part-time, seasonal and sporadic jobs or sometimes full-time.

Keeping in mind that people don’t always do what they’d planned, boomers’ expectations for work exceed what current retirees are doing. Well over half of workers over 50 plan to find some kind of work after they retire.

The seeming oxymoron – working “retirees” – plays out in various ways.  State and local government workers retire as early as their 50s if they’ve worked enough years to max out their pensions. Some of these civil servants find other jobs while collecting a pension. Boomers who’ve left career jobs but lack a pension cut back to part-time work in their field or find a full- or part-time job in a new field.

Money is a major reason, with a notable exception. Some people work into their late 60s or 70s because they just enjoy it. They’re usually the most educated and frequently see their jobs as a labor of love that sustains their personal growth, professional identities, or relationships. …Learn More

CRR logo

Research

What’s New in Retirement Research

Millennials, longevity, Americans’ retirement outlook – these are among the topics economists tackle in five interesting research briefs.

Links to each brief below appear at the end of their titles. (Full disclosure: the researchers are at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which funds this blog.)

  • “Will Millennials Be Ready for Retirement?” – They are the most educated generation. Yet they lag previous generations of young adults in their retirement preparedness. Student loan debt is one big reason.
  • “National Retirement Risk Index Shows Modest Improvement in 2016 – Rising house prices boosted individuals’ wealth, modestly improving our retirement outlook. But, again, Millennials face significant headwinds.
  • “Is Working Longer a Good Prescription for All? – Most households’ retirement plans would benefit from working longer, saving more, and delaying Social Security. Low-income and less-educated workers with the most to gain financially, however have fewer job options for postponing retirement. …
  • Learn More

Behavior

Gen-X, Millennials: Now is the Time

figureGeneration X and millennials, there is time.

In contrast to baby boomers, who are now mostly too old to rack up appreciable increases in their 401(k)s – though they should try – younger Gen-X and millennials have time and compounding investment returns on their side.

This blog examines how they are faring – millennials, because saving and investing well now poises them for a secure retirement, and Gen-X because this “ignored” generation is sandwiched between the financial demands of parenting and parent care.  Their own assessments of their retirement preparedness appeared in a recent report by the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS).

Millennials

“Millennials have heard the word that they need to save for retirement,” TCRS declared in its report summarizing its 2016 online survey of more than 4,000 workers.

Millennials’ ages are up through 37 in this survey.  Nearly three out of four who have 401(k)s at work are already saving for retirement. They typically started saving at 22, indicating impressive foresight about retirement dates far in the future.  Gen-X, ranging in age from 38 through 51, didn’t get started in earnest until they were 28.

While it’s great that millennials are saving for retirement, women in particular are not saving enough, said Catherine Collinson, president of TCRS. Among workers who participate in their employer’s 401(k) or similar plan, the survey finds that the typical millennial woman contributes only 5 percent to her plan, compared with 10 percent for millennial men.

Millennials aren’t taking advantage of their uniquely long investment time horizon, the survey finds. Retirement experts encourage younger adults to more aggressively invest 401(k)s in the stock market to enjoy decades of the long-term growth and compounding investment returns and potentially ride out the market’s inevitable volatility. Theoretically, if the stock market’s history proves true, equity-investing millennials can build up substantial retirement accounts, accumulating employers’ contributions and their own contributions and investment earnings over time.

But many millennials came of age during the 2008 financial crisis and still seem to be “in a state of shock with their concerns about the stock market,” Collinson said.  One in five millennials say they are investing conservatively in bonds, money market funds, and cash.

Generation-X

Baby boomers will be the last generation with substantial access to traditional pensions. Gen-X is the first generation to heavily rely on defined-contribution accounts. …Learn More

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