October 14, 2014
A Thriving Underground Money Culture
Recent immigrants – whether from Mexico, Africa or China – often form groups that regularly contribute to a pool of money. Group members then take turns pulling out $500 or $1,000 in accumulated cash.
These savings groups are one aspect of a pervasive underground money culture bustling beneath the surface in U.S. communities of immigrants and other low-income workers.
Savings groups are one of four types of “informal” financial arrangements identified in a new report, “An Invisible Finance Sector: How Households Use Financial Tools of Their Own Making.” These arrangements create a strong social commitment to saving typically absent in the formal U.S. banking system.
The four arrangements discussed in the report are:
- Savings groups, also known as lending circles, which are primarily found in immigrant communities.
- Interpersonal loans.
- Storing more than $100 in cash at home.
- Money guards who safeguard someone else’s savings. …
September 25, 2014
Seniors’ Housing Cost Burden on Rise
For a growing share of older Americans, housing expenses have become an increasingly large financial burden.
One in three Americans over age 50 were carrying a severe or moderate housing cost burden in 2012, up from one in four in 2000, according to a new study by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and AARP. The Center defined a severe burden as housing costs that consume more than half of household income; a moderate housing burden takes between 30 percent and 50 percent of income.
The Center’s report, “Housing America’s Older Adults – Meeting the Needs of An Aging Population,” warns that the nation is unprepared for both the financial and non-financial housing challenges that will accompany the coming explosion in the elderly population. Aging baby boomers will require better access to public transit, handicap access, assisted living facilities and other special services and amenities, and many will need subsidized housing.
Housing is often an older person’s largest single expense. And because housing costs are largely fixed (think mortgage payment, taxes, insurance, upkeep and utilities), they can become a growing burden for people as they age and become more vulnerable to reductions in income. Incomes often decline toward the end of their working years and decline again when they enter retirement. Pensions and Social Security benefits fall again when one spouse dies.
The report finds that: …Learn More
August 28, 2014
Stark Differences in U.S. Cost of Living
The Squared Away Blog’s focus is on how informed financial decisions can improve one’s personal finances or retirement prospects. But much that impacts our standard of living is not in our control.
One example is the cost of consumer goods, healthcare, and renting or buying a home, which vary widely from one city or region to another. To highlight this variation, the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., used recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to create the cool interactive map below, which shows locations with the highest cost of living (bright orange) and the lowest (bright turquoise).
Running a cursor over the map displays metropolitan and rural areas and their comparative living costs, measured in terms of what $100 will purchase. In the Manhattan-New Jersey area, for example, $100 buys the equivalent of about $82 worth of goods, healthcare and housing, while it will buy $119 worth of the same stuff in central Kansas.
Source: The Tax Foundation.
The least expensive city is Danville, Illinois, where $100 buys $126 in consumer goods, followed by Jefferson City, Missouri; Jackson, Tenn.; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Rome, Georgia. The most expensive metropolitan areas are the usual suspects, in this order: Honolulu, Manhattan, Silicon Valley, the Bridgeport-Stamford, Connecticut, area outside Manhattan, and Santa Cruz, California, which is south of Silicon Valley.[A second map compares states.] …Learn More
August 14, 2014
South Has Highest Debt Collection Rate
It’s old news that working people in the South earn less than residents of thriving communities in California, the Northeast, the Upper Midwest and elsewhere.
What’s troubling is how many Southerners apparently can’t pay their bills.
West Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Texas – they’re among 13 states where more than four in 10 state residents’ credit card or other debts have been sent to collection agencies, according to a July report by the Urban Institute.
The report, based on data from the credit reporting firm TransUnion, provides insight into how many Americans continue to experience financial stress even though the recession is technically over. The Urban Institute’s analysis doesn’t focus on mortgage debt, since delinquent home loans generally go into foreclosure and rarely to collections. Yet many of the Southern states were also hit harder by the housing market collapse than the nation as a whole. …Learn More
July 1, 2014
Best States for Growing Old
Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont, Wisconsin, California and Maine – these states may be the best places to grow old.
They came out on top in AARP’s new State Scorecard based on their access, cost and the quality of their care services for aging adults and on their supports for the most common form of caregiver – family members.
To see your state’s overall ranking, run your cursor over the map below. To see how your state ranks on other measures, click here.
Enid Kassner, an AARP vice president who helped developed the rankings, said the Scorecard is useful to the leading edge of the baby boom generation, who will start turning 80 in 12 years. For example, if having a say in selecting the individual professional who will provide care, such as bathing, dressing, or meals, is the top priority, California is the best place to be. …Learn More
June 12, 2014
Government Workers See COLA Cuts
State and local government workers have long felt their pensions were more secure than the vanishing pension coverage in the private sector. But a spate of changes to cost-of-living protections should give them pause.
In the wake of the Great Recession, 17 states reduced, suspended, or eliminated cost-of-living increases (COLAs) in their defined benefit pensions for state and local workers, according to a recent summary of legislative actions around the country by the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog. And the courts are backing them up, deciding that the inflation protections – a fixture of the majority of public pensions – do not have the same constitutional or other legal protections that apply to core benefits.
The COLA changes, enacted to reduce government pension liabilities, generally affect both current retirees’ benefits and the future retirement benefits of active employees.
The above map shows where the cuts have occurred. The following is a summary of the specific change in each state: …
April 29, 2014
Pay Gap: Depends on Woman’s Age
The earnings gap between working men and women has narrowed somewhat over time, but it’s considerably wider for older women.
Women who are now on the cusp of retirement and working full-time earn 67.5 cents for every dollar men their age earn – or 8 cents more than working women who were the same age (in their late 50s and early 60s) during the 1970s.
For younger women, the pay gap persists but things are brighter. Women in their late 20s and early 30s today earn 84 cents for every dollar a young man earns. That’s a 20 cent gain over women who were their age back in 1970.
These are among the myriad statistics documenting the history of the pay gap in the new (7th) edition of the economics textbook, “Economics of Women, Men, and Work.”
The pay gap affects women’s ability to save, buy a house, and invest. There are several explanations for why younger women have made more progress, relative to men, say the textbooks’ authors, Francine Blau, Anne Winkler, and Marianne Ferber: …