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Retirement Research Sessions: Aug. 7, 8

Which idiosyncrasies affect the decision to retire? What’s driving the widening longevity gap between high- and low-income Americans? Are workers’ retirement savings really falling short, and is working longer good for your well-being?

These are among the research topics that will be presented two weeks from today at the 16th annual meeting in Washington D.C. of the Retirement Research Consortium, which receives support from the U.S. Social Security Administration. The agenda and details about the Aug. 7 and 8 meeting can be found here. Register to attend in person – it’s free – or view the meeting online in real time.

The consortium’s members are the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (which supports this blog), the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, and the NBER Retirement Research Center.

In coming weeks, the Squared Away Blog will cover some of the studies presented at the meeting. …Learn More

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Summer Reading: Retirement

For those who want to use these lazy summer days to catch up on their reading about retirement, Squared Away has compiled some of the blog’s most popular articles this year.

The articles, which are listed below, were among readers’ top 20 from January through June, based on an analysis of Squared Away’s Internet traffic.  Many of the articles were about research sponsored by the Retirement Research Consortium, which includes the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, a sponsor of this blog.

A link to each article is provided at the end of the following headlines:

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Depression Up After Pension Benefits Cut

Sudden changes in older workers’ financial expectations for retirement can cause depression, according to a 2011 study.

The study, which came out of the Netherlands, suggests that cuts in Dutch pensions, announced on very short notice, produced feelings of differential treatment and a loss of control that increased the incidence of depression among the workers who were adversely affected.

Workers were tested for depression two years after a 2006 pension reform reduced the share of their salaries replaced by the government-mandated defined benefit pension plans provided by employers.

Workers born in 1950 and after suddenly learned their “replacement rate” – the percent of pay the pension replaces – would drop to 64 percent, from the 70 percent initially promised.  Everyone born before 1950 was unaffected.  To replace the lost benefits, workers facing the cut would either have to save substantially more or work an additional 13 months. …Learn More

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Social Security at 62 but Fairly Healthy

Are people who claim their Social Security retirement benefits when they’re 62 too sick or impaired to work?

Fast forward three years, to when these early claimers turn 65.  They’re about as healthy as those who decided to wait until age 65 to start receiving their Social Security retirement benefits, according to preliminary findings from a study using Medicare spending data as a proxy for health.  The early claimers are also far healthier than people who left the labor force early to go on federal disability.

Some 8,500 older Americans were in the study’s sample, and they fell into four different groups: those who claimed a reduced Social Security pension soon after turning 62; those who claimed a larger pension at 65; those who were awarded a Social Security disability benefit before turning 62; and those who applied for disability but were denied and then claimed their retirement benefit after age 62. …Learn More

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Low Income: Why Only 12% Save to Retire

A new study estimating that just 12 percent of low-income older Americans save in a 401(k) or similar employer retirement plan also suggests that many more would save – if only they could.

The researchers – April Yanyuan Wu, Matt Rutledge, and Jacob Penglase of the Center for Retirement Research – focused on individuals between ages 50 and 58 with household incomes below three times the poverty line. That was less than $36,357 in 2010 for a one-person household, for example, and less than $46,800 for two people. The period studied spans 1992 through 2010.

Retirement saving primarily takes place in workplace plans. But to participate in a plan, workers must clear four hurdles. First, they need a job. Next, their employer must offer a retirement savings plan. If there is a plan, they must be eligible to participate. And if eligible, they must sign up and contribute.

A failure to sign up can’t be blamed for the dismal savings rate of this low-income group. Instead, the problem is that many never get the chance. …Learn More

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Spending Cut When Job Threats Rise

A new study provides important insights into American workers’ household budgets.

The study found that when workers sensed a growing likelihood they might lose their jobs, they quickly pared their spending on a large and diverse basket of discretionary consumer goods. These included both standard purchases and big-ticket items, from gardening supplies and vacations to cars and dishwashers.

The analysis was based on a survey of some 2,500 workers who were asked about their spending patterns and also asked to estimate their own chances of becoming unemployed over the coming year. The survey was conducted between 2009 and 2013, when the U.S. jobless rate at one point approached 10 percent. …Learn More

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Downturns Fuel Bridge Jobs, Retirement

Older workers may have every intention of deciding when they’ll retire, but economic conditions can undermine their well-laid plans.

A new study investigating whether macroeconomic events “leave workers with less control over their retirement timing” found that various transitions from career jobs into retirement sharply accelerated during periods when more Americans, including more older workers, were losing their jobs.

The researchers analyzed whether periods of rising unemployment over the past 50 years have affected three specific retirement transitions made by older workers: 1) from full-time work to “bridge jobs,” which pay less; 2) from bridge jobs to full retirement; and 3) from full-time work to full retirement.

These transitions were tracked based on changes in individuals’ employment earnings documented in U.S. Social Security Administration data from 1960 through 2010. An individual was considered to have shifted to a bridge job after he experienced at least a 50 percent decline in his earnings with an existing or new employer – the earnings floor on this group was $5,000 per year.  When earnings fell below $5,000, the worker was considered fully retired.

The researchers said that they focused on white men between the ages of 55 and 75, because their labor force participation patterns were more stable during the period studied than those of women and minorities.

They found that a 1-percentage-point rise in the U.S. unemployment rate increased the number of men moving each year from full-time work to bridge jobs by 7 percent.

Rising unemployment also pushed more men into full retirement.  A 1-percentage-point rise in the unemployment rate increased the number of men who retired – either from full-time work or from a bridge job – by 5 percent each. …Learn More

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