Public Pension Cuts Hit Recruitment

West Virginia teachers started the wave of strikes over pay.
Photo courtesy of Janet Bass, American Federation of Teachers

Teachers’ strikes and walkouts over inadequate pay – in Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia – are making news this spring. In Oklahoma, half the people who’ve left teaching recently said pay was their top reason for moving on.

A wave of reductions in another significant form of compensation – pensions – also appear to be making state and local governments a less appealing place to work, according to researchers Laura Quinby, Geoffrey Sanzenbacher, and Jean-Pierre Aubry at the Center for Retirement Research, which publishes this blog.

Pensions have traditionally been the great equalizer for governments trying to recruit people from the higher-paying private sector. But benefit cuts, which had been fairly uncommon, gained momentum after the 2008 stock market crash that battered pension funds’ already declining finances.

The pace of cost-cutting reforms peaked in 2011, when 134 state and local government plans made some type of cuts that year. They run the gamut from increasing the tenure requirement or retirement age applied to new employees’ future pensions to trimming the cost-of-living adjustment on all pensions. …Learn More

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Timing of Social Security Checks is Key

It’s a simple concept. Deposit retirees’ Social Security checks right before their big-ticket bills come, especially rent.

The U.S. Social Security Administration’s current schedule for depositing pension checks in bank accounts is based on each retiree’s birth date– it can be the second, third, or fourth Wednesday of each month.

The problem is that cash-strapped, low-income seniors receiving the earlier checks, on the second or third Wednesdays, can fall into a common behavioral trap: they spend the money soon after it comes in and then can’t cover the rent, mortgages or credit cards due at the beginning of the following month.

According to a clever new study, people who get these early monthly checks are at greater risk of resorting to desperate measures like payday loans than are seniors receiving them on the fourth Wednesday.

Such measures of financial distress are occurring “even though the pay schedule is known in advance,” write researchers Brian Baugh and Jialan Wang.

The advantage of Social Security deposits made on the fourth Wednesday is that retirees can get the big expenses out of the way first, forcing them to make do for the rest of the month with the money they have left. Indeed, people with fourth-Wednesday deposits had fewer bounced checks, account overdrafts, and payday loans, the researchers found. …Learn More

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

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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

Millennial Retirement ‘Discouraging’

Baby boomers have limited time and only a few options to improve their financial prospects when they retire and give up a regular paycheck. Millennials have more time to do something about it.

They should start thinking about it, indicates a study by the Urban Institute’s Richard Johnson, Karen Smith, Damir Cosic, and Claire Xiaozhi Wang.

millennial chartTheir test of a comfortable retirement was set at a 75 percent replacement rate, meaning retirees need 75 cents in monthly income for every dollar earned in their final decade of working. For this analysis, the researchers estimated retirement income at age 70 – an age when most people have already retired – for every individual in the federal data sources used in their analysis.

They found that about a third of boomers and boomers’ parents don’t have enough retirement income to make that 75 percent cutoff. Millennnial households will be significantly worse off at age 70: nearly half are at risk.

The prospects for Millennials are “discouraging,” the researchers said. …Learn More

baby on mom's shoulder

Earnings Gap Hits Mom’s Social Security

Mothers often work less because, well, they’re also moms.

Still, they generally work consistently enough to qualify for Social Security pensions based on their own earnings records – rather than on their husbands’, as was common when more women were full-time housewives or worked just a few hours a week while the kids were at school.

Yet today’s working mothers do take a hit to their earnings when they temporarily reduce their hours or take a hiatus from work for childcare. The upshot of lower earnings is less Social Security income later for mothers, according to a new study by researchers for the Center for Retirement Research (CRR supports this blog).

The researchers, Matt Rutledge, Alice Zulkarnain, and Sara Ellen King, used data on all older women – married or single, mother or not.  First, they confirmed past studies showing that the typical mom earns about $2,760 per month – or 28 percent less than a childless woman earns. Having two children translates to nearly 32 percent less income, and three children, to 35 percent less. (The analysis adjusts for some things – education is one – but not all the factors that distinguish mothers from non-mothers.)

Mothers’ lower Social Security benefits reflect this earnings penalty, though by a smaller percentage.  Mothers’ benefit checks are 16 percent less than women who had no children to care for.  Benefits are also lower if they had more children – by 18 percent for two children and nearly 21 percent for three. …Learn More

How Social Security Gets Fixed Matters

Line chart showing who's spending is reduced: workers or retirees? As more baby boomers retire, Social Security’s impending financial shortfall will become more pressing.

To restore solvency, Congress can either cut Social Security’s pension benefits or increase the payroll taxes deducted from workers’ pay.

Both policies would impact how much is available for households to spend. Researchers at the Center for Retirement Research find that the benefit reductions would have an appreciably larger annual impact on retirees than would the higher taxes on workers. But the taxes would be spread over a longer time period.

The new study looks at four specific policies, two that cut retirement benefits and two that raise taxes.  Each policy analyzed would equally benefit Social Security’s finances.

Gauging their separate effects required using a model to predict workers’ behavior. This was necessary because some workers might feel they should retire earlier if more taxes are being taken out of their paychecks. On the other hand, if their future pension benefits will be trimmed, they might decide to work a few more years to increase the size of their monthly checks.

One option for reducing Social Security payouts would be to delay the full retirement age (FRA) at which retirees are eligible to collect their “full” benefits. A second option is trimming Social Security’s annual cost-of-living (COLA) increases.

A two-year increase in the FRA, to 69, would reduce annual consumption in retirement by 5.6 percent for low-income, 4 percent for middle-income, and 2.2 percent for high-income retirees. …Learn More

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