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

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. …
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Video: Kids Say the Darndest Things

The children in this video have a delightful take on our cultural attitudes and mores about money – what it is, what it can do, and whether to share it.

The interviewer borrowed the format Art Linkletter used when asking kids questions on his Emmy Award-winning television show, “Art Linkletter’s House Party,” which aired between 1952 and 1969 – as boomers and their parents will remember.

The new video about kids and money is posted on the American Financial Services Association Education Foundation’s website.  The foundation’s mission is to educate people about responsible money management, starting with young children and teenagers.

The adorable factor makes this 6-minute video fly by.Learn More

Dependence on Social Security is Striking

Social Security chartA retiree’s sources of money are often described as a three-legged stool: Social Security, pension, and savings.

But many seniors’ financial support looks more like a single, sturdy pillar: Social Security.

This is shown dramatically in new U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates of just how critical the federal program is to millions of older Americans.  The data speak for themselves:

  • One in two retired households counts on Social Security for at least 50 percent of their total income.
  • One in four gets virtually all income – 90 percent – from the program.

The differences among myriad demographic groups also follow the usual socioeconomic patterns, according to the SSA researchers, Irena Dushi, Howard M. Iams, and Brad Trenkamp. …Learn More

Man riding a bull with an upward arrow

Just Half of Americans Enjoy Bull Market

The stock market’s 19 percent climb in 2017 was nothing short of impressive. This year, it has gained another 6 percent.

This means that many boomers with 401(k)s are feeling a little more secure about retirement – at least for now. That more people feel they will be able to afford a vacation this summer with their children. And that Warren Buffett is getting richer even faster.

But one in two Americans isn’t at the party. According to the Survey of Consumer Finances in 2016, the Federal Reserve Board’s latest triennial survey and the most comprehensive look at Americans’ personal finances, 48 percent of U.S. families do not own equities.

Less surprising is how stock holdings break out at various income levels. About 30 percent of families with earnings in the bottom half of all incomes own equities, whether in the form of 401(k) investments, brokerage accounts, mutual funds, or individual stocks. For these lower-paid workers, the 2.5 percent average increase in hourly wages in 2017 is usually more meaningful. But inflation increased 2.1 percent last year, leaving them with just 0.4 percent more spending money, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics wage and inflation data. This is half of 2016’s inflation-adjusted wage gain.

In the next highest income group – from the middle-income level up to the 90th percentile – about 70 percent of families own equities in various forms. In the top 10 percent, the vast majority do (94 percent).

The chasm between the well-heeled and ordinary workers has been widening. Stock ownership is one prism through which to view that inequality. …

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boston skyline

Burdensome Rents are “the New Normal”

apartment rents chartDuring Boston’s mayoral election in November, Mayor Marty Walsh boasted that his administration has overseen $100 million in housing investment. Walsh’s challenger, City Councilor Tito Jackson, responded that this new investment has been dominated by the luxury apartments and condominiums sprouting downtown and around GE’s new headquarters in the booming Seaport neighborhood.

Walsh retained his seat, but Boston’s housing debate is playing out from Orlando to Austin to San Francisco.

“The lack of affordable rental housing is a consequence of not only increases in the number of lower-income households but also steeply rising development costs,” Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies concluded in its annual report on the nation’s housing stock.

An unprecedented 1 million new renters have come into the market annually since 2010, the center said, fueled by well-heeled older couples and young professional couples with children pouring into luxury apartments and the single-family homes that are on the rental market.

Building has slowed more recently, but not before strong demand had driven up the typical U.S. apartment rent by 27 percent, to $1,480, between 2011 and 2016. And $1,100-plus apartments leaped from one-third of the rental market to two-thirds; all rents were adjusted for inflation.

A decline in available apartments renting for under $850 are depriving working-class families of options. “[O]nce-affordable units have become out of reach for lower-income households,” the report said. …Learn More

Federal Taxes Have a Good Side Too

This Donald Duck cartoon, funded by the U.S. government in 1943, urged Americans to pay their income taxes to support the war effort. Paying taxes was a patriotic act, to build up the inventory of war planes and battleships to defeat the Nazis – “sink the Axis!” the narrator bellows.

Nobody liked paying taxes then, and they still don’t. Yet there was a growing awareness as the war played out in the 1940s that taxes – like saving your scrap metal – were necessary to advance the greater good.

Things are different today. There doesn’t seem to be as much room in the public conversation for the benefits that federal taxes bestow, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (nursing home funding) and the Part D prescription drug benefit for retirees, or for government investments in education, roads, and research – or about who would suffer more if deprived of these benefits.

“Most people who do in fact receive significant forms of economic security from the federal government don’t know it,” argued Molly Michelmore, an economic historian at Washington and Lee University, in a recent interview on New York public radio. …Learn More

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